Why Credit Suisse Says to Buy Whole Foods Now

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Despite being way off of its highs in the past few years, Whole Foods Market Inc. (NASDAQ: WFM) might be making the case for a comeback, at least according to one key analyst. The new initiatives that this organic grocer is taking are bolstering its position and could be signaling a bottom.

Credit Suisse is upgrading Whole Foods to an Outperform rating from Neutral and raising its price target to $40 from $30. Overall, this brokerage firm sees a unique opportunity to own this leading specialty food player while still in the early stages of a repositioning that should reinvigorate growth. A 50% drop in the stock from its peak provides an attractive entry point. Currently the new price target represents 24% upside, while downside seems limited by poor sentiment.

Whole Foods is cutting prices, accelerating private brand penetration, aggressively reducing costs, enhancing marketing, investing in technology and rolling out a value format in 365. The company has been slow to anticipate accelerating competition, but this innovative management team’s aggressive response looks supportive of a return to growth.

The company’s comparable sales have been weak, but recent strategic initiatives and easing comparisons may indicate a bottom is near. A look at Kroger in the early stages of its repositioning suggests the stock could rally as comps improve. The return of EBITDA growth is the catalyst for a more sustained recovery.

The 365 store format allows Whole Foods to reach markets where demographic constraints make its core stores uneconomical. While there are questions around the 1,200-store target, 365 could dramatically expand the new store opportunity.

Credit Suisse detailed in its report:

The competitive landscape in natural/organic retailing is evolving at a rapid pace. Growth at smaller specialty players has been robust as capital chases the higher returns of healthy living. Traditional players like Kroger and Costco have aggressively expanded their natural/organic offerings at lower prices to drive basket growth. The middle-income and millennial customer accounts for more of the industry growth today than in the past, as healthy living goes mainstream. The days of charging upper-income consumers, the ultrahealth conscious, and environmentalists high prices for organic product appear to be over. WFM has been slow to react to the heightened competitive landscape, but is now in the early stages of an aggressive repositioning that we believe will reinvigorate growth.

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Shares of Whole Foods were trading up 5% at $33.97 on Wednesday, with a consensus analyst price target of $29.71 and a 52-week trading range of $28.07 to $41.97.