There are few stocks I am dying to own more than Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM), so I really hope my analysis shows that it’s a slam-dunk buy for my retirement portfolio.
For starters, anything with the word “organic” in it is a great place to start looking for stocks. It’s the signature word of our time. It’s the buzzword of the discretionary, upscale consumer. Millions swear by their “organic” products. The organics movement caught hold some 15 to 20 years ago and has so much money behind it — not just in products but in lobbying and public policy — that it is the unstoppable train for the 21st century.
That’s because people are driven by the “H”-word: healthy. I have no idea if organic truly is healthier for people or not. I’m suspicious of those who lay chemophobic claims on me. I think people want to believe what they want to believe, and everyone wants to believe they can be “healthier” if they eat “organic.” I think it’s the second greatest public relations program since DeBeers invented “diamonds are forever.”
And Whole Foods is the single-biggest name in organics.
When a Whole Foods City opened up near me last year — and I call it a city because that’s what it is — I also discovered another angle I hadn’t considered: It has an incredible selection of delicious food! Fresh fish, poultry, meats, made-to-order burgers, chicken, sandwiches, pizza, coffee, smoothies, multiple varieties of cheeses, wines, high-end chocolates, even a coffee and juice bar. I left having spent twice what I do at my regular grocery store and four times what I spend at Trader Joe’s. Where else can you have a sexy seller of goods steal all your money and leave you smiling (legally)?
So here it is: a dominant brand in a sunrise industry with extraordinary pricing power and high barriers to entry. Safeway (NYSE:SWY) who?
Heck, with those high prices, Whole Foods’ net margins are triple those of regular grocers. Whole Foods is growing at a 18.6% annually while grocers are flailing. Grocers are loaded with debt, while Whole Foods has just $24 million, with $1.2 billion in cash and is constantly increasing free cash flow ($750 million in the trailing 12 months).
But here the party ends. As I feared, everyone else knows what I know.
Even if you gave Whole Foods a 10% premium for being the 800-pound gorilla in the organic room, I can’t see a fair value beyond $60. Right now, even if you back out WFM’s $8 per share in cash, it trades at 30% above that.
So I’ll keep an eye on Whole Foods, but for now, I’m putting this melon back on the rack.
As of this writing, Lawrence Meyers did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. He is president of PDL Capital, Inc., which brokers financing, strategic investments and distressed asset purchases between private equity firms and businesses. He also has written two books and blogs about public policy, journalistic integrity, popular culture, and world affairs. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his tweets @ichabodscranium.