In the U.S. and overseas, shoppers are looking for good value, which is good news for a select group of companies.
Neil CurrieUBS203-719 firstname.lastname@example.org
Coverage Area: Drug-Based Retailers
Industry Outlook: Drug store industry sales have improved in February. Rite Aid (RAD) reported a 2.2 percent total increase in comparable store sales, including 2.1 percent from prescriptions (Rx) and 2.5 percent from front-end (merchandise or non-prescription sales), solid considering recent history. On the heels of Walgreen Co.'s (WAG) report of a total comp of 4.2 percent, including 4.1 percent from Rx and 4.6 percent from the front-end, shows that industry-wide sales have improved.
The industry-wide improvement in sales is a good read through to CVS Caremark, who no longer reports monthly comp sales, our top pick in the space. We feel sales with continue to improve into the month of March and reiterate our ratings; CVS Caremark (Buy), WAG (Buy), and RAD (Buy).
About CVS Caremark: The Employees Retirement System (ERS) Board of Trustees announced it has selected CVS Caremark to serve as pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) for the State of Texas under a new four-year contract. The contract will cover 450,000 lives and is estimated to save the state roughly $265 million over the term of the contract. The program costs in pharmacy expenses for FY2007 were $496 million.
The new contract is still subject to final negotiations but would go into effect September 1. Management stated that normally one-third of contracts come up for renewal each year, and of those, one-fourth have been renewed.
Alexia HowardBernstein Research212email@example.com
Area of Coverage: Consumer Packaged Goods
Industry Outlook: Going forward, we believe that the group's relative and absolute valuation multiples will remain robust, especially if the deteriorating macroeconomic environment persists.
Overall, we continue to recommend an overweight position in U.S. food stocks and a market-weight position in household and personal products stocks.
Within our coverage, we rate Campbell Soup (CPB), Heinz (HNZ), Kellogg (K), Kraft (KFT), Procter & Gamble (PG), and Sara Lee (SLE) as Outperform with price targets of $45, $56, $61, $41, $78, and $20, respectively.
About Kraft: Our analysis shows that Kraft is the market leader in categories representing 81 percent of sales in the U.S., versus just 47 percent for its peers, and this will rise further after the divestment of the Post Cereals business to Ralcorp Holdings in mid-2008. Over time, Kraft's dominance should win out and enable the company to see significant margin recovery. We rate Kraft outperform with a target price of $42.
Jon Andersen, CFAWilliam Blair & Company312firstname.lastname@example.org
Coverage: Branded Consumer Products
About Alberto Culver (ACV): Our Outperform rating on has been (and continues to be) based -- in part -- on our belief the company should prove to be a pillar of relative strength in a potentially more challenging macroeconomic environment. Alberto-Culver reported fiscal first-quarter results that handily exceeded our (and consensus) expectations on both the top and bottom line, lending additional credence to this view.
First-quarter revenue increased by 14 percent to $401 million (above our $383 million estimate), of which approximately 8 percent was organic, 1 percent was related to a change in accounting for inter-company sales (following the spin-off of Sally Beauty), and the remainder due to favorable currency translation.
Operating income increased by more than 50 percent, as operating margin expansion accelerated on favorable product mix shift, restructuring cost savings, and -- to a lesser extent -- an apparent timing-related shift in marketing spending to subsequent quarters.
Christopher GroweStifel Nicolaus314email@example.com
About Kellogg (K): We are initiating coverage of Kellogg with a Buy rating and $58/share target price. As we reconsider the prospects for Kellogg's business driven by its volume-to-value (V2V) strategy and aggressive marketing/new product efforts, we believe the revelation of improved growth once again in 2008 will continue to drive this stock higher.
Kellogg has managed the input costs with ease by raising prices, generating cost savings and managing its expenses conservatively to blunt the effect of the rampant inflation. So, here we are once again in 2008, considering 9 percent EPS growth but with significant headwinds behind input costs, marketing, and tax rate.
While all food stocks tend to perform well in the face of challenging economic times, Kellogg would likely be a first stop for investors seeking defensive consumer staples stocks. We put Kellogg on the same pedestal as companies such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and Procter & Gamble - consistent, fast growing, "average" valuation multiple, and leading market share.
The company has been the epitome of consistency, which is magnified by the above-plan growth seemingly each and every quarter and the breadth of growth occurring across nearly every major division. So, while there are cyclical tendencies among some of our food companies, Kellogg has been the antithesis of this, and we believe will see some multiple appreciation occurring alongside the malaise currently in the market and the economy.