In the eternal battle for peanut-butter preeminence, Jif recently received a gift from Peter Pan. The market clearly liked the outcome, sending shares of J.M. Smucker (NYSE: SJM ) to a new high. But at current prices, the short-term boost may end up hurting Smucker's long-term investment appeal.
Earlier this year, there was a salmonella scare for ConAgra's (NYSE: CAG ) Peter Pan and other peanut butter brands, leading to a product recall that Smucker's was happy to offset with increased sales of its Jif brand. Management estimated that the scare boosted fourth-quarter sales $10 million to $15 million, but it didn't have the capacity to fill the entire void left from the recall.
The short-term boost clearly helped Smucker's beat fourth-quarter earnings estimates by a wide margin. However, full-year sales still fell slightly, even though the bottom line improved almost 13% as management kept a tight lid on expenses.
Smucker's has also been working to sell slower-growing food brands and acquire outside businesses to meet its long-term goal of 8% sales growth. Management has a stellar track record of right-sizing its food mix; sales and earnings have grown more than 20% on average over the past five years.
But because of the recent run in the shares, Smucker's now trades at more than 20 times forward earnings, and it "expects raw material costs to increase significantly over 2007 levels." Higher food input costs will undoubtedly hurt competitors such as Heinz (NYSE: HNZ ) , Kraft (NYSE: KFT ) , Sara Lee (NYSE: SLE ) , and Unilever (NYSE: UN ) (NYSE: UL ) as well. But at current levels, Smucker's is one of the more richly valued food firms, and it has one of the lowest dividend yields. In other words, it looks as if short-term gains could lead to a longer-term risk that Fools might overpay for the stock.
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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.