Topic: How To Invest

Speculation has Campbell Soup as takeover target

Speculation has Campbell Soup as takeover target

CAMPBELL SOUP CO. (New York symbol CPB; is the world’s largest maker of canned soups. It also makes Prego canned pasta and sauces, Pepperidge Farm cookies and V8 vegetable juices. Wal-Mart accounts for 19% of its sales.

The company’s sales rose 6.1%, from $7.6 billion in 2009 to $8.1 billion in 2013 (fiscal years end July 31). That’s partly due to acquisitions of related businesses, including Bolthouse Farms, a producer of carrots, dressings and fruit juices that it bought for $1.55 billion in August 2012. Bolthouse added $756 million to Campbell’s 2013 sales.

In June 2013, the company paid $249 million for Plum, a leading organic-food producer. Businesses like these cut Campbell’s reliance on canned foods.

Campbell’s earnings have been more erratic than its sales. Its profits rose 9.7%, from $771 million in 2009 to $846 million in 2011. Due to fewer shares outstanding, earnings per share jumped 18.1%, from $2.15 to $2.54. Earnings then fell to $2.44 a share (or $783 million) in 2012, mainly due to rising ingredient costs. However, they rebounded to $2.48 a share (or $786 million) in 2013.

The company is now restructuring, including closing plants in North America and Russia. It has also sold the bulk of its money-losing European simple meals business for $542 million. In all, Campbell expects to cut its annual costs by $150 million when it completes these moves in 2015.

Investing in stocks: Lower operating costs open door to more dividend hikes

Savings from the company’s restructuring are helping it launch 200 new products this year.

In 2013, its research spending rose 10.3%, to $128 million (or 1.6% of its sales) from $116 million (or 1.5% of sales) in 2012. Its marketing costs also increased 0.6%, to $947 million (or 11.8% of sales) in 2013 from $941 million (or 13.1% of sales).

The company’s lower operating costs are also giving it more room for dividend hikes. It recently raised its payout by 7.6%. The new annual rate of $1.25 a share yields 2.9%.

Campbell borrowed the cash it needed to buy Bolthouse and Plum. However, the extra cash flow from these businesses is helping it pay down its debt. As of January 26, 2014, Campbell’s long-term debt of $2.25 billion was 17% of its market cap. It was also down 23.6% from $2.9 billion a year earlier.

Last year’s acquisition of rival Heinz by Berkshire Hathaway fueled speculation that Campbell could also become a takeover target.

In the latest edition of Wall Street Stock Forecaster, we look at Campbell’s sales and earnings outlook. We also assess the likely reaction to a takeover bid by company insiders, who control a substantial portion of the shares. We conclude with our clear buy-hold-sell advice on this stock.

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Have you bought any stocks specifically because they were prominently mentioned as takeover candidates? Were they taken over and did you get the payoff you expected? If they were not taken over, did they still make money for you?


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