McCormick Spices Things Up

McCormick (NYSE: MKC  ) reported a recipe for spicier growth Thursday. Price increases, cost savings from a restructuring plan, and foreign currency benefits helped the household brand report higher-than-expected first-quarter earnings of $0.39 per share (including a $0.02 restructuring charge). This represented an 18% increase over last year's $0.33 per share.

The company noted a "steep increase" in commodity prices that pressured McCormick's margins. Fortunately, the spice maker could pass most of those costs onto customers through "pricing actions," along with higher-volume sales of branded spices and seasonings and new products. While the gross margin slipped by one percentage point, the operating margin improved by 50 basis points.

Consumer sales improved by 9.5%, while the smaller industrial segment posted even more robust 12.8% growth. Total sales rose 11%, but 4% of that growth was due to the weak dollar. The favorable effect of such macroeconomic conditions probably won't continue to season growth over the long term. Still, given the 17% higher operating income McCormick sprinkled atop 11% total sales growth in a challenging economic environment, Fools needn't toss any salt over their shoulder for good luck with this investment.

Despite this strength, the company gets only a bland three stars on Motley Fool CAPS. With its recent $75 million acquisition of Billy Bee Honey Products, management added another 100 basis points to its full-year earnings growth projection; it now expects a range of 8% to 10% on a comparable basis. The company predicts bottom-line figures of $1.97 to $2.01 per share (including a $0.10 restructuring charge). This excludes the pending purchase of Unilever PLC's (NYSE: UL  ) Lawry's subsidiary for $605 million.

As tasteful as these results may seem, they have already simmered into the stock price. McCormick currently sells for 21.4 times trailing earnings. This is a highly reliable business, providing stability with moderate price appreciation, so the shares are fully valued for good reason. But Fools in a bargain-hunting mood might find General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) or Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB  ) better suited to their palate, selling for 15.7 and 15.9 times earnings, respectively.

Just a dash of further Foolishness:


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