It might not be obvious to the casual observer, but right now, today, Campbell's (NYSE: CPB ) stock offers one of the best values available in the processed foods industry. Why?
Campbell is cheap
When you stack up the stock of Campbell Soup against a couple of its bigger rivals -- H.J. Heinz (UNKNOWN: HNZ.DL ) and Mondelez International (NASDAQ: MDLZ ) -- it's clear that Campbell's stock is the best bargain of the bunch. Its 19 price-to-earnings ratio is nearly 15% cheaper than Heinz's 22.2 P/E, and it offers an eye-popping 37% discount to the 31 P/E at Mondelez.
Granted, looking into the future, improved profits at all three companies will bring their forward P/E ratios down, with Mondelez making the biggest "gains" in a decline to just 17.2. Even so, Campbell stock retains its "cheapest foodmaker" label, with a forward P/E of just 16.3 -- lower than Heinz or Mondelez, either one.
Campbell has the best record around
Over the past five years, Campbell has grown its annual profits at the fastest pace of these three companies. While not burning up the track, exactly, its 3.8% growth rate still edges out Heinz's 3.7%, and leaves Mondelez (sales down from $40.5 billion in 2008 to just $35.1 billion over the past 12 months) in the dust.
Admittedly, going forward, analysts see Mondelez and Heinz making up some of the ground they've lost. Mondelez in particular is expected to average annual earnings growth north of 11% over the next five years. Heinz, like Campbell, should top 6% -- but then again, with Heinz getting acquired by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital, it's going to be hard for investors to participate in that growth. Berkshire, after all, is pegged for only 5.4% earnings growth over the next five years.
Campbell pays you best
Perhaps most important to investors is that out of the three foodstuffs stocks discussed so far, Campbell is generating the most cash from its business, giving you the biggest free-cash-flow bang for your investing buck.
Measured by dividing a company's market capitalization (the price you pay for Campbell stock) into its free cash flow (the money your investment generates for you), the free cash flow yield from Campbell is the best of the three companies. For every $1 you invest in a share of Campbell stock today, you can expect the company to generate 5.6 cents' worth of real, cash profits on your investment. (Try getting that from your bank account.) What's more, Campbell's free cash flow yield has been trending up more strongly than its rivals' have in recent years.
Campbell may ultimately use this cash to pay you bigger dividends (its current yield of 2.6% eclipses Mondelez's 1.7% -- and Heinz's 2.8% yield will presumably vanish as it disappears into the depths of Berkshire Hathaway). Or Campbell could use its cash to buy back shares (increasing the size of your stake in the company for every share it takes off the table), or to reinvest in its business and maintain its stellar pace of growth. Any way you look at it, though, Campbell's ability to generate cash offers investors a great reason to invest.
And that, Fools, is the reason I think now's a great time to buy Campbell stock.