4 Stocks to Watch as the Agriculture Operations Industry Recovers

The Zacks Agriculture – Operations industry is poised to benefit from innovations and improved consumer demand for healthy products. Investments in acquisitions, joint ventures and expansions are likely to fortify the prospects of the industry players. Continued investments in assets and technological capabilities to innovate and serve customers bode well for players like Archer Daniels Midland Company ADM, Adecoagro S.A. AGRO, Dole plc DOLE and Limoneira Co LMNR.

However, higher investment costs and SG&A expenses continue to mar the profitability of the companies participating in the industry. Logistic and supply-chain issues, higher input costs, and elevated operational expenses have been affecting industry players for a while. Supply-chain concerns and commodity cost pressure have been affecting results.

About the Industry

The Zacks Agriculture – Operations industry comprises companies that produce or procure, transport, store, process, and distribute agricultural commodities to consumers. It also distributes ingredients to other parts of the agriculture industry (including clothing, animal feed, energy and industrial products). Some industry players engage in dairy operations, land transformation activities and the development of food ingredients using gene-editing technology. The industry encompasses production activities related to traditional farming of crops (like corn, soybean, wheat and cotton) and livestock and poultry products (including meat, dairy and eggs). The products are mainly sold at grocery stores or exported overseas. These are also used as feedstock for other industries. For example, cotton is used in the clothing industry and corn is used in the ethanol industry.

Factors Shaping the Future of Agriculture – Operations Industry

Robust Demand Trends for Organic Products: The industry has benefited from an organic movement prompted by consumers’ increasing demand for healthier food. Agriculturists are adopting organic production techniques and curtailing the use of chemicals and pesticides. Innovations in food processing, improved grain-handling techniques, larger storage spaces and strong emerging market demand are conducive to the industry’s growth. Healthy eating habits are likely to accelerate purchasing and consuming alternative proteins. Focus on nourishment and wellness is pushing microbiome solutions to the forefront. The companies have been investing in acquisitions and joint ventures to build top-notch ingredients and solutions for meeting the demand for healthy products.

Agricultural Export Projections: Per the U.S. Department of Agriculture, agricultural export projections for fiscal 2023 (ending Sep 30, 2023) of $177.5 billion suggest a decline of $3.5 billion from the May forecast of a record $181 billion. The export forecasts have been affected by declines in commodity groups, including corn, wheat, and tree nut exports. Moreover, the agricultural export projections for fiscal 2024 are estimated at $172 billion, reflecting a further decline from the revised estimate for fiscal 2023. Lower exports of soybeans, soybean meal, and dairy products are expected to hurt agricultural exports in fiscal 2024.

Elevated Costs: Industry participants have been witnessing higher costs due to rising raw material, freight and logistics costs, including constraints in labor and trucking resources, leading to higher lead times for deliveries. Supply-chain concerns and commodity cost pressure have been affecting the profitability of agricultural companies for a while. The companies have resorted to pricing strategies to counter rising raw material costs. The industry participants seek to counter the global supply-chain challenges by forming partnerships and distribution strategies. Despite the pricing strategies, supply-chain challenges and cost inflation are expected to continue hurting margins in the near term.

Companies in the industry continue to face raised SG&A expenses due to higher performance-related compensation, project-related costs, commissions and variable compensation. The companies are also witnessing elevated costs for investments in technology and innovation to stay ahead of the race. Continued deleverage in SG&A expenses may continue to have a bearing on the profitability of companies.

Zacks Industry Rank Indicates Bright Prospects

The Zacks Agriculture – Operations industry is a 13-stock group within the broader Zacks Consumer Staples sector. The industry currently carries a Zacks Industry Rank #109, which places it in the top 44% of more than 250 Zacks industries.

The group’s Zacks Industry Rank, which is basically the average of the Zacks Rank of all the member stocks, indicates bright near-term prospects. Our research shows that the top 50% of the Zacks-ranked industries outperform the bottom 50% by a factor of more than 2 to 1.

The industry’s positioning in the top 50% of the Zacks-ranked industries resulted from a positive aggregate earnings outlook for the constituent companies. Looking at the aggregate earnings estimate revisions, analysts are gradually gaining confidence in this group’s earnings growth potential.

Before we present a few stocks that you may want to consider for your portfolio, let’s look at the industry’s recent stock-market performance and valuation picture.

Industry vs. Broader Market

In a year, the Zacks Agriculture – Operations industry has underperformed the S&P 500 and the Zacks Consumer Staples sector.

The stocks in the industry have collectively fallen 19.3% in a year against the growth of 13.5% for the Zacks S&P 500 composite. Meanwhile, the sector has declined 2.3% in the same period.

Agriculture – Operations Industry’s Valuation

On the basis of the forward 12-month price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, which is commonly used for valuing Consumer Staples stocks, the agriculture – Operations industry is currently trading at 11.75X compared with the S&P 500’s 19.44X and the sector’s 17.52X.

Over the last five years, the industry has traded as high as 17.44X, as low as 10.52X and at the median of 14.44X.

4 Agriculture Operations Stocks to Keep an Eye on

Two Zacks Agriculture – Operations universe stocks currently sport a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy) or #2 (Buy). Here, we suggest two other stocks with a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) from the same industry, which investors may hold on to.

Adecoagro: This Luxembourg-based agro-industrial company engages in farming crops and other agricultural products, dairy operations, sugar, ethanol and energy production, and land transformation activities in South America. The company benefits from high asset flexibility, which gives it a competitive advantage in the current uncertain market outlook. Its flexibility is reflected in its ability to increase the mix of anhydrous ethanol to benefit from its high prices and recovering demand. The company’s Farming & Land Transformation businesses have been benefiting from consolidating the five-year plan investments made in Crops, Rice and Dairy businesses, along with its focus on efficiencies.

The company’s shares have rallied 31.4% in the past year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for AGRO’s 2023 earnings has increased 7.3% in the past 30 days to 88 cents per share. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for the company’s 2023 sales and EPS suggests declines of 11.2% and 22.1%, respectively, from the year-ago period’s reported figures. The company currently has a Zacks Rank #2.

Dole: This Dublin, Ireland-based global leader in fresh produce is poised to benefit from improved logistical efficiencies in several areas, which brought increased stability to its core fruit business. The company’s diverse sourcing network and advanced farming practices are likely to help overcome the potential weather challenges in various regions. The company benefited from a healthier supply and demand balance in the first half of 2023, which allowed a better pricing environment in Europe and much improved selling conditions in non-core markets.

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Dole’s 2023 earnings has increased 6.9% in the past 30 days. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its 2023 sales and earnings suggests a decline of 10.6% and 4.1%, respectively, from the year-ago period’s reported figures. The company delivered an earnings surprise of 57.5%, on average, in the trailing four quarters. The DOLE stock has increased 28.7% in the past year. he company currently has a Zacks Rank #2.

Archer Daniels: This Chicago, IL-based agricultural product company’s leadership in critical global trends like flexitarian diets, nutrition and sustainable materials has contributed to its momentum. Its focus on investing in assets and technological capabilities to serve customers efficiently is likely to be a significant growth driver. Solid demand, improved productivity and product innovations have been driving growth. Its Readiness program, positive cash flow and solid performance at the Nutrition unit have been aiding the results. The company has been progressing well on its three strategic pillars — optimize, drive and growth.

Management is optimistic about the company’s 2022 results and envisions another year of solid earnings growth. It is poised to benefit from the robust performance of its Nutrition segment, owing to significant gains in the Human and Animal Nutrition units. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for Archer Daniels’ 2023 earnings has increased 0.8% in the past 30 days to $7.18 per share. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for ADM’s 2023 sales and earnings suggests a decline of 3.7% and 8.5%, respectively, from the year-ago period’s reported figures. It delivered an earnings surprise of 22.4%, on average, in the trailing four quarters. The company has declined 9.6% in the past year. The company currently has a Zacks Rank #3.

Limoneira: Santa Paula, CA-based Limoneira is a diversified citrus growing, packing, selling and marketing company with related agribusiness activities and real estate development operations. The company’s strategic approach toward fresh utilization has resulted in robust sales of fresh lemons by its sales and marketing team. The company’s avocado segment’s sales are poised to benefit from robust pricing, which has almost doubled year over year. LMNR is on track with its new plan to expand One World of Citrus, increase its avocado plantings and strategically sell certain assets to increase cash flow in the near term dramatically.

The company’s shares have gained 25.2% in the past year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for its fiscal 2023 sales suggests a decline of 7.1% from the year-ago period’s reported figure. The loss estimate for fiscal 2023 of 15 cents implies a significant increase from a loss of 8 cents reported in the prior year. LMNR delivered a negative earnings surprise of 42.3%, on average, in the trailing four quarters. The company currently has a Zacks Rank #3.
Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM): Free Stock Analysis Report

Dole PLC (DOLE): Free Stock Analysis Report

Adecoagro S.A. (AGRO): Free Stock Analysis Report

Limoneira Co (LMNR): Free Stock Analysis Report

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