UPDATE 3-Constellation Brands forecast weak; shares slump
* Sees FY EPS $1.93-$2.03 ex-items; Wall St view $2.23
* Sets $1 billion share buyback
* Q4 adj EPS 69 cents, tops Street estimate of 39 cents
* Shares down nearly 8 percent
April 5 (Reuters) - Constellation Brands Inc forecast earnings for its new fiscal year well below Wall Street estimates, sending the wine maker's shares down nearly 8 percent.
The maker of Robert Mondavi and Ravenswood wines pointed to a sharp drop in free cash flow this year due to the absence of tax benefits that boosted cash flow in fiscal 2012.
The company said on Thursday that it expected earnings of $1.93 to $2.03 per share, excluding one-time items, for fiscal 2013, which began March 1.
That compares with analysts' average estimate of $2.23 per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Constellation earned $2.34 per share in fiscal 2012.
The company also said its board had authorized a $1 billion share buyback program.
For the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012, ended Feb. 29, Constellation reported net income of $103 million, or 51 cents per share, down from $279.8 million, or $1.32 per share, a year earlier.
Excluding restructuring and other charges, earnings were 69 cents per share, which blew past analysts' average estimate of 39 cents.
Sales fell 12 percent to $628 million. The decline largely stemmed from Constellation's sale of its Australian and British wine business. North American sales rose 5 percent, helped by volume growth and a better mix of products.
Equity income from the company's half of a joint venture with Mexico's Grupo Modelo that imports Corona beer into the United States rose 2 percent.
Constellation said it expected to repurchase shares under the new authorization from time to time over a two-year period, completing half of it this fiscal year. The new buyback authorization is in addition to the company's current one for $500 million.
Constellation shares were down $1.92, or 7.8 percent, at $22.77 in early trading.