If J.M. Smucker has proven anything, it’s that investors can always find a way to get excited about jam — even when it’s financial performance gets a little sticky.
For its fiscal fourth quarter reported in early June, J.M. Smucker (SJM) had a so-so performance. Sales fell by 1.2% to $1.34 billion and profits came to $1.29 per share, up from $1.10 in the same period a year ago. The Street was looking for sales of $1.34 billion and earnings of $1.16 per share.
The company’s outlook was also pretty tepid. SJM bumped its fiscal 2014 earnings forecast of $5.65 to $5.75 per share on revenue of $5.9 billion. Analysts were expecting a forecast of $5.73 per share and revenues of $5.99 billion.
While the initial investor response was fairly negative, the stock rebounded back to the all-time high range around $102-$103 it had been trading in for months.
So should you buy J.M. Smucker, or was that blip a sign of things to come? To see, let’s look at the pros and cons:
Brand Power and Innovation: SJM has a strong portfolio of dominant brands, such as Folgers, Jif peanut butter, Crisco, Carnation, Café Bustelo and Café Pilon. The company also has been smart to license brands and products, such as Dunkin’ Donuts (DNKN) coffee and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR). In the past year, the company has worked to expand its brands by launching 70 new items including new K-Cups and Smucker’s Natural Foods. Oh, and innovation remains a key part of the company’s marketing strategy. For example, SJM has leveraged digital media across social networks like Facebook (FB), Twitter and Pinterest, and even launched a mobile e-commerce site. All of these efforts have been a smart way to target important demographic groups, especially younger consumers.
Dealmaking: Making deals has been crucial to the growth strategy at SJM, and the company has a good track record. Perhaps the most spot-on acquisition was its $3.7 billion purchase of Folgers, which was owned by Procter & Gamble (PG), back in 2008. This provided SJM with a strong product line spanning a wide range of price points. More importantly, the coffee business has remained robust — SJM followed the Folgers deal with the purchase of Rowland Coffee Roasters and the North American coffee business of Sara Lee. But acquisitions are likely to be a way for the company to move into foreign markets, too (only about 9% of revenues right now are outside North America). To this end, it recently struck a transaction to buy a 25% equity interest in Guilin Seamild Biologic Technology Development, a Chinese manufacture of oats products.
Financials: Smucker’s financials are looking pretty solid. During the past year, SJM increased its free cash flows by 40% to $650 million, allowing the company enough resources to improve its product line as well as return capital to shareholders. For example, during the previous year, the company increased its dividend payout by 9% and bought back nearly 4% of its shares.
Competition: SJM’ has many rivals to contend with, including biggies like Kraft Foods (KRFT), General Mills (GIS), Kellogg (K) and Starbucks (SBUX). The growth in private label products has been another factor. This has been a big problem for products like Crisco, which have seen intense price competition over the past year.
Commodities Prices: Commodities have stabilized this year … but they can be subject to abrupt spikes. This was the case in 2011, when rising peanut prices put pressure on Jif, forcing SJM to increase the prices on its products by about 30%. The price of green coffee has also proven to be quite volatile: In May 2011, it hit a 34-year high, up 125% on a year-over-year basis. With bad weather, a coffee crop can easily be destroyed.
Dependence: SJM relies on a few major operators for distribution. No doubt, the biggest one is Walmart (WMT), which accounts for 26% of net sales. The top 10 customers accounted for a whopping 60% of SJM’s net sales, which could lead to long-term issues for SMJ, especially in terms of pressures on pricing.
Founded in 1897, SMJ has demonstrated it knows how to build a lasting business. Keep in mind that the Smucker family has been essentially operating the company for the past five generations. As should be no surprise, the strategy is to provide for disciplined growth. This involves organic growth of 3%-4% per year and acquisitions to add about 2%-3%.
The formula has worked quite well, producing an average return of 11.17% during the past 15 years.
If anything, the coffee business is likely to be a big driver for the next few years, especially with the K-Cup operation and the continued innovation of the product line. And yes, international expansion should also be a nice boost.
So should you buy J.M. Smucker? Yes — for now, the pros outweigh the cons on the stock.
Tom Taulli runs the InvestorPlace blog IPO Playbook. He is also the author of High-Profit IPO Strategies, All About Commodities and All About Short Selling. Follow him on Twitter at @ttaulli. As of this writing, he did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.