BENJ GALLANDER and BEN STADELMANN
Summer is upon us and with it the time to relax on a patio and have a cool one. Or two. With the season, we return to investing in beer, which seems to be the focus of this column every five years or so. The company chosen has not changed, Brick Brewing, although our ownership has evolved. A decade ago, Benj purchased this sudsy at 67 cents and disposed it less than 1.5 years later as it foamed to the $2.34 level.
Those were heady days for this enterprise that soon fell on hard times. Toward the end of 2008, the malt was dipped into again, this time at a mere 25 cents per share. Bankruptcy was not out of the question, but confidence was placed in the newly minted CEO George Croft, who had been president of Lakeport Brewery Income Fund when it was sold to Labatt.
Since then, the stock price has done exceedingly well, and in 2012, Benj took some profits off the table, selling 25 percent of the position at $1.46, cashing in on a 484 percent gain. Currently the stock price is skipping around at the $1.65 level. Though the profit on this position has already been frothy, the sell target for the remaining 75 percent is once again $2.34, which, if achieved, leaves an upside of better than 40 percent.
Management is feeling confident and pouring $9 million into an expansion of the Kitchener Brewhouse, some of the funds coming from the Southwestern Ontario Development Fund. Annual savings from this investment are forecast at $1 million, while allowing the enterprise to compete on a slightly better, but still dramatically unequal footing with the big boys in the industry. The decrease in expenses will help the bottom line, which was profitable to the tune of $2 million in 2015, even with sales down slightly to the $36 million range from $37 million the year before. The revenue tally was supported by the 21 percent growth in trade for Waterloo beer, counterbalanced by a drop of 13 percent in the Seagram label.
The first quarter of 2016, always a difficult one as it covers the less lucrative winter months when fewer hops are quaffed, showed a nominal profit of $31,000, an improvement from the red ink of $230,000 last year. Summertime presents a 10-week window that can make or break a year and steamy weather and people gathering to watch the Pan Am Games might be the ticket to tickle the bottom line.
In April, the corporation announced a share buyback of up to 5 percent of the outstanding shares of almost 35 million. That should help set a base under the stock price, all things being equal.
Last month, the corporation’s brands were rewarded with some recognition. Their economy brews Laker Light and Laker Lager chimed in with gold and silver medals at the Canadian Brewery Awards. Meanwhile Waterloo Dark and Waterloo IPA chugged home a couple of bronze finishes.
Five years ago, Mr. Croft outlined the possibility that Brick would acquire other companies or be swallowed by a larger player. While it has consumed some brands over the years, both of those possibilities remain in play. Certainly the stock price would move up more quickly if a buyout transpired. While the company is the largest independent in Ontario, it would still be a very small gulp for one of the majors.