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Magic Diligence
Magic Diligence

Is Kraft (KRFT) A Legitimate Deep Value Stock?

May 01, 2014 | About:

One stock that has been in the official Magic Formula (MFI) screen for the past month or so has piqued my interest: Kraft (KRFT).

The MFI screens, particularly the $50 million screen, are usually reserved for deep value stocks. Usually you find stocks in here suffering serious adverse business developments (LQDT, NSR, etc.), operate in out-of-favor industries (APOL, STRA, etc.), have volatile and difficult-to-predict future prospects (PDLI comes to mind), or are just simply cheap quantitatively (CSCO, COH, et.al.).

Kraft doesn't seem to meet those descriptions. The company operates in one of the most stable and predictable industries around: packaged foods. Kraft is suffering no material adverse business developments, enjoys immense competitive advantages in the form of scale and brands, has a reasonably good balance sheet for the industry, and pays a 3.7% dividend yield.

So why the 12.5 P/E ratio, vs. a 16.3 for former parent Mondelez (MDLX), a 15.9 for ConAgra (CAG), or a 20.8 for Unilever (NYSE:UL)? Is Kraft really an overlooked value play here?

Pension Effects Muddying the Accounting Waters

A little sleuthing reveals the reason for the apparent disconnect in valuation.

Kraft inserts the valuation effects of its pension plans directly into its income statement, embedded within the cost of sales and selling, general and administrative (SG&A) line items. This has a significant effect on operating earnings and earnings per share, effects which most screeners do not (and can not) take into account.

For example, in 2013, Kraft inserted $1.56 *billion* dollars of pension gains into these two line items. In 2012, a much less robust year for the market, that figure was just $223 million. See how this affects gross margin, operating margin, and earnings per share:

Metric 2013 w/ pension 2013 wo/ pension
Gross Margin 37.6% 32.7%
Operating Margin 25.7% 17.2%
EPS $4.53 $2.60

Comparing Apples to Apples

As you can see, that's quite a difference! Screeners - including the Magic Formula screener - would use the 2nd column, while for competitors, screeners are effectively using the 3rd column, as pension effects are not really operating metrics and simply muddy the accounting waters.

At the most basic level, comparing P/E ratios, we see that Kraft's comparable P/E ratio is actually ($56.86 / $2.60) = 21.9, which is actually well above most of its competitors. Also, backing out pension effects makes Kraft's gross and operating margins much more comparable to its competitors.

In a nutshell, we can answer the core question of the article right now: Kraft is NOT a legitimate deep value stock, and in truth probably should not be in the Magic Formula screens at present.

What Is Kraft Really Worth?

While we are here, let's dig into what the stock is worth.

Kraft is a great business, as we mentioned before. As North America's 4th largest food and beverage company, with 2 brands (Kraft and Oscar Meyer) selling over a billion dollars a year (and over 25 that generate $100 million plus), and accounting for 4-6% of all grocery sales, Kraft has excellent competitive advantages. Food is a largely recession-resistant industry, so cash flows are stable and predictable. Kraft's goals are to increase earnings and dividends in the mid-single digit range annually - an achievable target.

These facts also make Kraft a relatively easy stock to estimate. Assuming about 5% cash flow growth, discounting at a low rate, and setting a market average valuation assumption, I get a target price of $61 for Kraft. That represents about 11% upside from current prices.

About the author:

Magic Diligence
Charlie Tian, Ph.D. - Founder of GuruFocus. You can now order his book Invest Like a Guru on Amazon.

Rating: 4.5/5 (2 votes)



HrZg - 3 years ago    Report SPAM

Good research, however, I am not fully sold on the idea that pension costs (in this case gains) should be fully ignored. If the pension costs were negative, as they should be most of the time, would you take out this expense from the operating income in order to normalize it? I think more realistic approach would be to average out the pension costs and gains over 10 years (perhaps as a % of salaries and wages). This would take into account both the losses and gains and would give a more accurate picture of true operating income.

Philtcu - 3 years ago    Report SPAM

Thanks for the analysis. I was curious why there was such a big difference between earnings and cash flow.

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