Campbell Soup Turnaround Shows Signs of Life

Print Email

Campbell Soup Co. (NYSE: CPB) has been a disaster of a company for investors of late. Its food business has historically kept its shares considered as a defensive investment, but investors who have bought those shares in the past three years or so would not know it at all. Now Campbell is a turnaround story, and it turns out that there finally may be some light at the end of the tunnel here for its battered shareholders.

If you exclude items, Campbell turned in $0.77 in earnings per share. The company’s net sales rose by about 24% to $2.71 billion. The Refinitiv (Thomson Reuters) estimates were $0.70 EPS and $2.68 billion in revenues. The jump in revenues was tied to an acquisition, because Campbell said that its organic sales were flat.

Recall that in 2018 Campbell was the target of activist investor Dan Loeb of Third Point. He was able to get two board seats but had originally sought more representation, prior to the settlement. The 21 million share stake makes Third Point the second largest Campbell shareholder, with a 6.98% stake, just shy of the Vanguard stake of 21.43 million shares, but almost half again as large as the number-three holder BlackRock at 14.81 million shares.

The company’s $4.8 billion acquisition of Snyder’s-Lance in 2017 and organic soup maker Pacific Foods for $700 million helped to add to the results. This also allowed Campbell to reaffirm guidance for 2019. Campbell issued its 2019 earnings outlook as $2.45 to $2.53 per share before divestitures, or $2.40 to $2.50 per share assuming the divestitures.

Campbell’s is still facing margin contraction and higher costs. Gross margin decreased from 35.1% to 26.3%, but excluding items its adjusted gross margin decreased 4.3 percentage points to 30.9% (including a 200-basis-point dilutive mix impact from recent acquisitions and due to cost inflation, higher supply chain costs and higher promotional investment). Marketing and selling expenses increased by 16% to $264 million, after reflecting a 22-point increase from the inclusion of the recent acquisitions.

Campbell has struggled with many packaged food-makers as younger consumers are more health conscious, shying away from higher salt content and packaged foods full of preservatives. On top of going healthier, the company also launched a cost-cutting strategy and plans to divest or exit certain products.

The company did report a net loss for the quarter after restructuring charges and a write-down of the fresh food business. One issue to consider here, whether or not shares are up, is that this marked the fourth time that Campbell has written down the value of that fresh foods unit since 2016. All in all, the write-downs have tallied up to more than $1.3 billion, and Campbell as a whole had a $10 billion market cap heading into earnings.

The troubled unit was put up for sale as quality control issues have been seen around farming issues and a large recall of its protein shakes. Campbell indicated that the company expects to announce buyers for its Bolthouse and its international business by mid-summer. Campbell also has agreed to sell salsa-maker Garden Fresh Gourmet, but financial terms were not disclosed.

Mark Clouse, Campbell’s president and CEO, said:

During the quarter, we continued to make progress against key strategic initiatives. Our efforts to stabilize our core business, integrate Snyder’s-Lance, deliver our cost savings agenda and focus and optimize the portfolio are all on track. Over time, these actions will enable us to increase investments in our core businesses while significantly reducing debt and creating meaningful value for shareholders. While we have made steady progress, there is much more work to be done to fully unlock the potential of our business.

Since joining the team and immersing myself in Campbell’s business, I am confident in the plans in place to address our near-in challenges and opportunities, with the commitment to set a clear strategic roadmap for the future. I am excited by the opportunities to build upon the company’s solid foundation of iconic brands, talented employees, engaged customers and loyal consumers. It is upon these strengths that we will continue to create a compelling plan that delivers profitable and sustainable growth, supported by a reenergized culture focused on accountability, performance and consumer-driven marketing and innovation.

Campbell shares were last seen trading up 5.2% at $34.60 on Wednesday morning. The 52-week range of $32.03 to $44.64 should show what has been happening here. The consensus price target was only $35.50 heading into earnings.

I'm interested in the Newsletter