It's hard not to like William Wrigley Jr. (NYSE: WWY ) , as Rick Munarriz said when two Fools shook hands last year, ahead of a bare-knuckles fight over the candy connoisseur. And yet the fight was on -- Chuck Saletta thought it was a sweet stock, while Seth Jayson had soured on valuation.
Hubba Bubba, that's a lot of cash
Chuck led off with a rundown of Wrigley's recent history of excellent earnings and dividend increases. "As an owner, you merely had to sit back and watch an ever-increasing pile of cash roll into your account," he said.
A dominant market position in the chewing gum market, with but a sliver of competition from Cadbury Schweppes (NYSE: CSG ) , and "shareholder-friendly management" only sweetened the deal. And while the core market is very, very mature worldwide, Chuck liked Wrigley's efforts to add new revenue streams from closely related product lines. On top of all that, he saw a chance to buy this great company at a fair price in the opening round.
And then Wrigley released stellar earnings, kicking the share price up a few notches overnight. Chuck still thought the new price was reasonable, though, at just 6.5% above the top end of his fair valuation estimates. Close enough -- chew on that, Seth!
On a sugar high
Where Chuck saw fair value, the Bent one saw a far too sugary valuation. Five years of declining margins and unconvincing cash flow growth left him looking for a reason to buy and finding none. The trends in returns on equity and invested capital were no better. "Wrigley appears to be doing less with more," cried Seth, and suggested that you look for better values on the next candy jar.
Responding to Chuck's growth arguments, Seth pointed out that Wrigley may have returned 9.1% annually for 10 years, with dividends fully reinvested -- but the S&P 500 returned 9.3% annually over the same period. Nobody buys a stock just to underperform the market, right?
Finally, he thought that a recent leadership change was a mere paper exercise. Incoming Nike (NYSE: NKE ) executive William Perez may have taken the CEO title, but former CEO Bill Wrigley Jr. remained as chairman of the board and executive chairman, which Seth equated to "meddler-in-chief." No added value there, in other words.
Winterfresh win for the bulls
When the dust settled, Chuck's bullish argument had persuaded 68% of 125 voters to take his side. Seth had to settle for 25% of the support, and the remaining 7% liked both arguments about equally. Score one for the bulls.
In the real world, Wrigley has returned nearly 30% since that Duel, significantly better than the S&P 500's 10.7%. That's another bullish sign. And in the Motley Fool's CAPS community, the stock meanders between a respectable four-star rating and five brilliant stars, with a 95% approval rating. The top players like Wrigley even more, and give the company a thumbs-up 97% of the time. I think we can call this a solid win for Chuck.
The company's returns include an 11% drop after releasing third-quarter earnings. The results weren't disappointing -- and were in fact super-sweet compared to Hershey's (NYSE: HSY ) bitter quarter -- but they didn't fulfill investors' cravings. The market appears to have gotten used to the "wow" factor here. Analysts point to Cadbury's swiping North American market share, and Perez admitted that the company had more inventory issues to work through.
So nobody's perfect. Cadbury looks hungry -- and thirsty -- these days and has a CAPS following nearly as solid as Wrigley's. The British soda and candy slinger's valuation also looks slimmer than its American counterpart's. What about Hershey? The chocolatier trades at pricier levels than either of the gumshoes but reported that it is strapped from rising prices. All three of these rivals look capable of outperforming the market at large, although I have to say that Cadbury smells a little better today.
The world won't stop chewing gum tomorrow, or next week, or next millennium. It's up to Wrigley to stay on top of that game, and Cadbury's recent advances show that Superman isn't invulnerable. But he is both tough and strong, and he will fight back. If you're looking for a solid but unexciting income stock, Wrigley should serve you well. And the bull continues to win.