Analyst Actions: ConAgra Foods Target Lifted $4 at Credit Suisse, But Keeps Neutral Rating; Shrs Hit Fresh Yr Highs

By Staff,

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Credit Suisse says: "Confidence Is Contagious at ConAgra; Raising Estimates and Target Price to $36 (from $32)"

"What does it mean for the state of the branded foods industry when the most anticipated presentation of the CAGNY conference comes from a branded company extending aggressively into private label? ConAgra management provided a compelling argument for why a disciplined company with best in class operating principles can add value in the highly fragmented private label industry. The big idea is to leverage scale across the organization where it makes sense (back office, R&D, and supply chain) and keep the two organizations separate where necessary (sales force and marketing). A "coordinator" at key customer accounts will be necessary to make sure the two sides coordinate with each other and provide the customer with coherent category management solutions.

"FY 14 EPS Guidance Appears Close to Market Expectations. Some may have been hoping for a more aggressive guide, but management by now is well-versed on the wisdom of managing expectations. Our math is that the FY13 guidance of $2.15 builds to $2.49-$2.52 in FY 14 if the base business grows 6-8%, but management will wait until June before giving more clarity. The quick close of the Ralcorp deal makes it difficult for management to speak with confidence about the operating condition of the assets or the speed at which integration and consolidation will proceed. Our observation is that management took a big haircut of perhaps $70M to Ralcorp's original EBIT expectations owing to "slower private label trends." But, as we see it, no one really believed that the Ralcorp numbers were achievable anyway. Favorable financing of the deal and good performance in the core business compensated for the miss. We are raising our FY 13 and FY 14 EPS estimates to $2.15 and $2.45 from $2.06 and $2.40, respectively, and our target price to $36 (from $32). Our TP is based on 14x our CY14 EPS estimate of $2.55. We are raising our FY2015 EPS estimates to $2.67 from $2.65.

"Our level of confidence in the ConAgra management team is as high as it has ever been. Rodkin, Gehring, Hawaux, Maass, Ross, and Bolles have shown that it is possible to turn a holding company into a dependable operating company even if the brands aren't all top tier. But now they will have to do it again with the culturally unconsolidated Ralcorp business, and with even lower profit margins and higher working capital requirements. New operating guidelines, new SAP systems, and new rules on procurement need to be applied. It will be a long road, but we think CAG is up for the journey.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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This article appears in: Investing Commodities
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