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David Rolfe Comments on Mead Johnson Nutrition

April 18, 2014 | About:
John Hussman

Holly LaFon

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Mead Johnson Nutrition (MJN)

Edward Mead Johnson: founder of not one, but two great companies in his lifetime. Now, how many of us can say that?! In 1885, after graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in law, he and his two brothers, Robert Wood Johnson I and James Wood Johnson, would found Johnson & Johnson, the consumer healthcare products company in Brunswick, New Jersey. With no lack of success, Edward soon 15 decided he wanted to do more. Ten short years later, he broke off from Johnson & Johnson and founded American Ferment Company in Jersey City, N.J., making nutritional products. Fast forward another ten years, in 1905 American Ferment re-­‐ established itself as Mead Johnson and Company and the +100 year history of the Mead Johnson Nutrition Company begins. While Mead Johnson's name has remained intact throughout its history, the company – with sales then of $131 million – was acquired in 1967 by Bristol-­‐Myers for $240 million. Bristol-­‐Myers Squibb owned Mead Johnson as a wholly owned subsidiary for the next four decades until they announced in April 2008 plans to sell 10-­‐20% of Mead Johnson to the public through an IPO in order to better focus on its burgeoning biopharmaceutical business. Bristol-­‐Myers Squibb would proceed to split off Mead Johnson and by February 2009 the IPO was complete. Shortly thereafter, in November of 2009, Bristol-­‐Myers would spin out the rest of their ownership of Mead Johnson in a stock swap, valued at $7.7 billion. Mead Johnson Nutrition would operate as a fully independent public company going forward.

Edward Mead Johnson's decision to break away from Johnson and Johnson stemmed from a personal experience that also drove a strong desire to work on nutritionals, primarily in digestive aids. In 1888, Johnson's first child was born, sadly enough, with a feeding disorder and congenital heart defect that required Johnson to prepare a physician-­‐directed product to feed the child. This was a time in history where, in some U.S. cities, up to 30% of infants died before reaching their first birthday (cdc.gov) with leading causes attributed to gastrointestinal disorders and infant digestive problems. Needless to say, Johnson had much motivation. In 1911, the company launched its first infant feeding nutritional product, Dextri Maltose, a carbohydrate powder mixed with milk. It went on to be the first clinically supported, physician-­‐recommended (not to mention the company's best-­‐selling) infant feeding product in the U.S. This product laid the foundation for Mead Johnson's later flagship infant nutritional product, Enfamil.

During World War I, the company could no longer import potato starch (Dextri Maltose's source of carbohydrate) from Germany and was forced to relocate to America's breadbasket where they could have access to an alternate supply of carbohydrates. The company settled in Evansville, Indiana where they found ample supplies of corn, their new source of carbohydrates. Today, the company maintains its Global Operations Center in Evansville. (As an aside, a friend of the firm has its own ties to Mead Johnson via Dextri Maltose and their move to Evansville. After relocating to Evansville, Mead Johnson had difficulty with the production of their best-­‐selling product. Mead Johnson teamed up with George Koch Sons, Inc. who provided packaging containers for Dextri Maltose. Mead Johnson would go on to use Koch packaging exclusively for nearly two decades.)

Over the coming decades, Mead Johnson produced numerous nutritional science breakthroughs. Casec, its first milk-­‐derived product, was introduced in the 1920's to assist gastrointestinal disorders and infant digestive problems – two of the leading causes of death in infants in the United States at the time. According to the 16 National Institute of Health, two-­‐thirds of American children in the early 1900's suffered from rickets – a disorder caused by a lack of vitamin D, calcium, and phosphate, and leads to softening and weakening of bones. Mead Johnson found that cod liver oil provided a source of vitamin D and the company introduced a product that allowed doctors to administer a standardized dose of the supplement. In 1931, the Company introduced the processed (dry and precooked) infant cereal Pablum. The considerable success of Pablum was due to its ease of preparation. Pablum was easily tolerable for infants, and it contained considerable amount of vitamins and minerals. Pablum was sold to H. J. Heinz in 2005.

Mead Johnson introduced its reconstructed milk, Recolac and Powdered Lactid Acid Half Skim Milk in the mid-­‐1920's. Reconstructed milk breaks cow's milk into its major nutritional components and reassembles them, along with other ingredients, into combinations thought to be more appropriate for infant feeding. Olac was later introduced which used vegetable oils rather than animal fats as a fat component.

Sobee Powder was one of the company's initial products, developed shortly after Recolac. This was the first powder produced by Mead Johnson that offered soybean flour as a source of protein for children allergic to the protein in cow's milk. Nearly two decades later, the company developed Mutramigen, the first protein hydrolysate formula in the U.S. for infants with cow's milk protein allergies. This product was a breakthrough in nutrition and remains today one of Mead Johnson's most important products. ProSobee, introduced in the 1960's, was the first infant formula in the U.S. with soy protein isolated from whole soy flour.

Mead Johnson introduced its first baby formula in 1911 and over the century expanded into vitamins, pharmaceutical products, and prenatal nutrition. Enfamil, undoubtedly the brand most recognized today in the United States, was first introduced in the 1950's in both powder form and concentrated liquid. Enfamil was the first routine infant formula patterned after the nutritional composition of human milk. Throughout the years, Enfamil underwent several modifications to improve the formulation in order to keep up with the advancement of science and pediatric nutrition.

Today, the Company's Enfamil brand is recognized worldwide for its leadership in pediatric nutrition. In 1978, a major manufacturer of infant formula (and competitor of Mead Johnson) reformulated two of its soy products, resulting in infant formula products that contained inadequate amount of chloride, an essential nutrient for growth and development in infants. By mid-­‐1979, a substantial number of infants were diagnosed with a syndrome associated with chloride deficiency. What soon followed was a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice, but more importantly, the passage of the Infant Formula Act of 1980 and its subsequent amendments in 1986. The Act established provisions for current good manufacturing practices (CGMP), quality control, nutrient requirements, and quality factors indicating that infant formulas marketed in the United States should be safe and contain all of the nutrients required to support infant growth and health.

During the legislative history of the Act, one Senator stated why infant formula needs more regulation than other foods: "…there is simply no margin for error in the production of baby formula. An infant relies on the formula to sustain life and provide the proper nourishment at a time of rapid physical and mental development" (fda.gov). The regulations have directly resulted in decreased competition in the industry.

The Company has developed numerous other infant and children's nutritional formulas and supplements. Also found on their list of achievements, Mead Johnson developed products that aid in the treatment for respiratory problems as well as the first weight loss product. For those readers who are over the age of, say 60, may remember the unintended pop culture phenomenon of the Company's weight-­‐loss product Metrecal. Metrecal was essentially this country's first diet protein shake that actually worked. Launched in late 1959, Metrecal was first a powder made up of corn oil, soybean flour and powdered skim milk, plus the powder was loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein. Mixed with water, Metrecal was a 900 calorie-­‐per-­‐day daily diet plan that literally worked wonders. (How could it not when consuming just 900 calories per day?!) A year later the Company introduced Metrecal in a pre-­‐mixed liquid can. As Metrecal moved from the pharmacy, to the kitchen, then on to the nation's patios in the early 1960's, the country's diet craze was in full swing – even Bergdorf Goodman made a high society purse flask that "could be the solution for every secret Metrecal drinker."

So successful was Metrecal that the Company formed an exclusive division (the Edward Dalton Company) for its production and marketing. The Company would proceed to rollout Metrecal milkshakes, Metrecal clam chowder, Metrecal cookies and Metrecal noodles and tuna. By 1965, the Metrecal franchise peaked and would lose its dominance in the 1970's to other crash-­‐diet products – particularly Slim-­‐Fast. By the late 1970's, due to a rash of deaths, the FDA pulled Metrecal and many similar products off the market.

Today, the company's worldwide recognition equates to over 70 products in more than 50 markets leading to a global share of 14% in the infant formula market – a #2 ranking. Mead Johnson International was formed in the mid-­‐1950's to provide a framework for conducting business overseas. Its first Mexican manufacturing facility was built in Mexico City, which today is the site of the company's Latin American regional headquarters. In the 1960's Mead Johnson constructed manufacturing facilities in the Philippines to support their growing presence in Asia. In the 1980's the company expanded into Western Europe, initially offering nutrition products for infants and older babies. Expansion into Central and Eastern Europe soon followed. Over the years, Mead Johnson would continue to develop and introduce formulas in different markets internationally.

Mead Johnson Nutrition Company has three reportable segments – Asia, Latin America, and North America/Europe – which comprised 52%, 20%, and 28% respectively of net sales for the calendar year. In total, 77% of the company's net 18 sales were generated in countries outside the United States. The Asia-­‐Pacific region, alone will likely account for 50% of future global growth. We have identified several drivers of the growth in these regions. In late 2013, China announced it would loosen its one-­‐child policy, allowing couples to have two children so long as one of the parents is an only child. By our estimates, this could expand the total addressable market for pediatric nutrition by a few billion dollars per annum. In addition, the 2008 milk and infant formula scandal has had a long-­‐lasting and material impact on the Chinese infant formula market. Melamine, a toxic chemical used in milk products to artificially boost protein, sickened an estimated 300,000 children. More than 50,000 children were hospitalized and six died from kidney damage. As a result of this scandal, Western brands garnered preferred trust and premium pricing as China, plus other regions, continue to lack the availability of high quality children's nutrition and a mature food supply. We are also seeing a demographic shift of more women in the work force, which will likely increase the use of infant formula and children's nutrition.

Mead Johnson Nutrition has more than a century of research and development, resulting in superior quality, consumer loyalty and leading profitability. As the strict regulations outlined above detail, the FDA scrutinizes the quality of infant formula, creating significant barriers to entry, particularly in the United States. As such, there are three brand-­‐name infant formula manufacturers that control over 80% market share in the U.S., Mead Johnson included. Further, the Company's R&D efforts have led to products with tangible, scientifically proven benefits to newborns, which is a proven differentiator relative to competing products and substitutes (e.g. breast feeding). For instance, outside of the U.S., Mead Johnson boasts the first formula, EFSA-­‐approved (i.e. Europe's FDA) Nutramigen LIPIL, which has proven benefits for visual development superior to those offered by breast milk.

While Mead Johnson has exceptional fundamental characteristics, our process dictates that the stock exhibit a valuation that is just as compelling. We have been following the Company since 2010, and have waited patiently for the stock to trade at the lower end of its valuation range, relative to other investment opportunities. During the quarter, sensible valuation levels came to pass, mostly due to a pullback in shares on near-­‐term concerns about earnings growth, as well as a paucity of cheap investment alternatives. However, we continue to believe that Mead Johnson has an exceptional value proposition that is capable of generating double digit EPS growth through a combination of price increases, share gains and cost containment. As a result of this attractive relative valuation and fundamental outlook, we initiated a new position in Mead Johnson.

From David Rolfe (Trades, Portfolio)'s Wedgewood Partners first quarter 2014 commentary.


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