October 6/New York/Dow Jones -- Constellation Brands Inc.'s fiscal second-quarter earnings rose 78% as the alcoholic-beverage company's realignment continued to offset lower sales and improved margins.

The results easily topped Wall Street's expectations, news that sent shares up 9.1% to $20.42 in recent trading.

After several years of acquisition-fueled growth, Constellation, whose brands include Robert Mondavi and Ravenswood wines and Svedka vodka, has divested some business segments that haven't performed as well as the company originally expected. That includes the January divestiture of 80% of the company's struggling Australian and U.K. businesses.

In recent years, Constellation has focused on the profitability of the remaining businesses, while also launching cost-cutting efforts. Charges related to the restructuring were greatly reduced in the second quarter, totaling $4 million compared to $17 million a year ago.

For the quarter ended Aug. 31, Constellation reported a profit of $162.7 million, from $91.3 million a year earlier. Excluding items such as business realignment costs, earnings rose to $0.77 from $0.52. Net sales dropped 20% to $690.2 million, mostly due to the divestiture. 

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had most recently forecast earnings of $0.66 on revenue of $668 million.

Operating margin jumped to 21% from 15.4%. Ahead of the results, Auriga analyst Gary Albanese said he expected margins to show some improvement, as Constellation streamlines its operations and removed some lower-margin brands.

At Constellation's Crown Imports beer joint venture with Grupo Modelo SAB de CV, net sales rose 7% while operating profit fell 4%. Higher volume of Modelo Especial and ongoing product launches for Corona Familiar and Victoria boosted the top line, although higher marketing spending cut into the unit's profit.

 Separately, Constellation paid $69 million to acquire the 50% stake of Italian wine company Ruffino it did not already own. The brand, which annually produces 1.3 million cases, has seen global sales rise 9% this year.

 From the October 6, 2011, Prepared Foods' Daily News.