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It Might Be the Time for Beer

December 19, 2013 | About:
Fede Zaldua

fedezaldua

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After a couple of capital increases and what looks like a weak strategy for its growth in different South American countries, Chile's beer king Compania Cervecerias Unidas (CCU) – most commonly knows as CCU - is selling at a steep discount to its peers. In other words, being down by 23% year to date, I think it might be the time to start thinking of buying CCU's shares.

A Weak Growth Strategy

CCU recently issued more than 50 million shares and plans to use the proceeds for organic growth as well as M&A in South America. Possible targets could be related to soft drinks in Colombia, dairy in Chile, or a multi-category approach in Argentina and Uruguay (where the company recently acquired a mineral water company). That being said, I agree with most analysts. CCU should focus on its wonderful beer business in Chile (where the company is an effective monopoly) and on returning capital to its shareholders through dividends and buybacks.

Results Are Still Wonderful

Despite having lost some ground in terms of market share in its main market against its rival, the Brazilian giant AmBev (ABEV), CCU's results are still ameliorating fast. Revenues were up by 13% year over year, EBITDA increased 6% year over year and their net income grew by 21% year over year. Better yet, consolidated organic volumes (the most important figure for beverage companies) increased by 7% year over year while pricing was also up by 5% year over year. That said, cost increases in Chile, Argentina and Uruguay (where the company is still losing money) were behind the 1.2% EBITDA margin contraction. Even when CCU's figures look very compelling, the company needs to work a lot on its cost structure and on focusing on its main market. After all, CCU's 18.4% EBITDA margin is well below AmBev's 50% margins.

Valuation Contraction Looks Overdone

Despite the unnecessary capital increase, I believe it's time to take a deep look at the shares. Price is what you pay and value is what you get, and at the current market price, I think you will get more than you pay for if you buy CCU's shares. The Chilean beverage leader sells for 7.7 times 2014 EV/EBITDA and 15 times earnings. Meanwhile, AmBev, which is down by 16% year to date, currently trades at 13 times 2014 EV/EBITDA and 20 times earnings. Even when the Brazilian beverages leader pays a much higher cash dividend yield than CCU (2.95% versus 1.95%), I believe the valuation gap is too wide. Moreover, with CCU you always have the M&A free call attached to the asset. The Chilean beer leader would be a wonderful target for the much bigger AmBev, which has been (unsuccessfully) trying to enter the Chilean market for more than a decade now. The Brazilian company could buy CCU and put into practice its wonderful famous cost-cutting strategies in order to boost margins.

Investors such as Carl Icahn and Richard Perry have held CCU for long periods of time. Maybe they should be buying once more. Always remember: “Price is what you pay and value is what you get.”


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