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If the extended state of the market’s bull run – which is nearly 10 years in the running now – is starting to make you wonder how much longer the “good times” are going to last, you’re in a relatively small, but growing group of people that are becoming increasingly wary. One of the things that not a lot of people understand, however is that even in a bearish market, you can keep finding good stocks to invest in with good long-term growth potential, if you’re willing to be cautious and selective. You also have to be able to work with a long-term perspective, because if the economy and the market do begin to reverse, the turn lower can come very quickly; that often means that even stocks that right now are trading at great valuations and fit into the “bargain” category under current market conditions are at risk of following the broader market’s trend to the downside.
One way you can try to minimize some of that risk is by focusing on stocks that analysts and experts like to call “defensive” in nature. These are businesses that offer products or services that are needed no matter what the economy is doing, so their revenues generally manage to be pretty stable. If they’re conservative about the way they manage their business, that usually means that even if their profits get squeezed by tighter economic conditions, they’ll be able to weather the storm better than most other stocks in more cyclic sectors and industries.
One of the industries that fits into this “defensive” category is Food Processing. This is an industry that includes some big, well-known names like Kellogg Company (K), General Mills (GIS), Kraft-Heinz (KHC), Campbell Soup (CPB) and Tyson Foods (TSN). Over the last year or so, this is also an industry that has come under a lot of pressure by investors who have been concerned that consumer trends are shifting away from many of these traditional names to smaller, trendier companies who are perceived as offering healthier options. The bigger companies have been scrambling to find ways to adjust to this shift, but that has also created some nice value options in the industry with stocks that have a terrific fundamental profile to use as a baseline and the size, resources, and responsiveness to make the adjustments they need to stay relevant.
One stock in this sector that I think has a great fundamental profile to work with, and appears to already be well-positioned to work with the trend toward healthier food options is Sanderson Farms Inc. (SAFM). This is a small-cap stock that a lot of people might not recognize at first blush; but this is a company with a singular focus. Investors who prefer to see a company with a diversified portfolio might look at the fact SAFM focuses exclusively on protein from poultry as a negative; but this is the third largest poultry processor in the United States, with a model that allows them to function profitably as a low-cost provider of protein products. As I think you’ll see, there is a pretty strong case to be made for this stock as a serious value opportunity, even under current market circumstances.
Fundamental and Value Profile
Sanderson Farms, Inc. is a poultry processing company. The Company is engaged in the production, processing, marketing and distribution of fresh and frozen chicken, and also preparation, processing, marketing and distribution of processed and minimally prepared chicken. It sells ice pack, chill pack, bulk pack and frozen chicken, in whole, cut-up and boneless form, under the Sanderson Farms brand name to retailers, distributors, casual dining operators, customers reselling frozen chicken into export markets. The Company, through its subsidiaries, Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Production Division) and Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Processing Division), conducts its chicken operations. Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Production Division) is engaged in the production of chickens to the broiler-stage. Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Foods Division) is engaged in the processing, sale and distribution of chickens. The Company, through Sanderson Farms, Inc. (Foods Division), conducts its prepared chicken business. SAFM has a current market cap of about $2.4 billion.
- Earnings and Sales Growth: Over the last twelve months, earnings declined by more than 37%, while revenues were mostly flat. In the most recent quarter the picture was markedly improved, as earnings tripled and sales grew a little over 5%.
- Free Cash Flow: SAFM’s free cash flow is healthy, at about $142.5 million.
- Dividend: SAFM’s annual divided is $1.28 per share and translates to a yield of 1.18% at the stock’s current price.
- Price/Book Ratio: there are a lot of ways to measure how much a stock should be worth; but one of the simplest methods that I like uses the stock’s Book Value, which for SAFM is $66.47 and translates to a Price/Book ratio of 1.56 at the stock’s current price. The stock’s historical average Price/Book ratio is 2.08, which puts a target price for the stock a little above $138 per share – nearly 33% above its current price. That puts the stock in a range it last saw during the last week of 2017.
Here’s a look at the stock’s latest technical chart.
- Current Price Action/Trends and Pivots: The red diagonal line measures the length of the stock’s longer-term upward trend, and also informs the Fibonacci trend retracement lines shown on the right side of the chart. After reaching a peak around $175 in early December of last year, the stock began an accelerated and extended drop to a downward trend low around $97 by June of this year. Since finding that bottom, the stock has been hovering in a range between $97 at support and resistance at around $109 per share. The 61.8% retracement line, at a price level around $113, is a pretty good visual reference for the point the stock would need to rally to in order to reverse the stock’s current downward trend.
- Near-term Keys: A strong push above $113, with strong buying volume would act as a good signal the stock is about to shift back to the up side; that would provide a good entry point for a bullish trade by buying the stock outright or by working with call options. On the other hand, if the stock breaks down and drops below $97, the expectation would be that the long-term downward trend is likely to extend even further. That could provide a good opportunity to work the bearish side either by shorting the stock or working with put options, with a target price in the short term between $85 and $89 per share, with the stock’s 2-year low around $74 not out of the question.