Heading Into Earnings, Smucker Looks Sweet!

When J.M. Smucker (NYSE: SJM  ) reports earnings for the fourth quarter of its 2014 fiscal year on Friday, Feb. 14, will the company leave investors delighted or struck with a sense of uncertainty about its future? As with any company heading into earnings, investors are in the right to wonder what the outcome will be. But, in the case of Smucker, is there more to worry about than meets the eye, or is the company an amazing prospect?

Mr. Market's expectations are high!
For the quarter, analysts expect Smucker to report revenue of $1.53 billion. If this forecast does come to fruition, it will mean that the company's sales have fallen from the $1.56 billion that management reported in the third quarter of 2013. Despite the lackluster sentiment surrounding Smucker's revenue, Mr. Market appears to be optimistic about its profitability.

As opposed to the $1.42 in earnings per share that the company reported in the third quarter of 2013, or the $1.47 that it reported on an adjusted earnings basis, Mr. Market anticipates that the company will report earnings of $1.68. Seeing as how the business has reduced its shares outstanding by 11% over the past four years, some portion of the improved earnings will likely come from a further reduction in shares. However, it's also probable that analysts are expecting the business to show some cost reductions in relation to sales.

How has Smucker done over time when placed next to its peers?
Over the past four years, Smucker's results have been somewhat mixed. Between 2010 and 2013, the company's revenue rose an impressive 28% from $4.6 billion to $5.9 billion. In part, this rise in sales stems from the company's acquisitions of brands like Sara Lee and Rowland Coffee Roasters, but is also attributable to organic growth.

Compared to rival Mondelez International (NASDAQ: MDLZ  ) , Smucker's results are enviable. Over the same timeframe, Mondelez saw its sales fall 9.6% from $38.8 billion to $35 billion. ConAgra Foods (NYSE: CAG  ) , however, slightly surpassed the results posted by Smucker. Over the past four years, ConAgra saw its sales rise an impressive 29%, from $12 billion to $15.5 billion.

In terms of revenue growth, Smucker sits in the middle of its two peer, but when it comes to profitability, the company is at the top. Over the past four years, net income at ConAgra grew a modest 7%, from $725.8 million to $773.9 million. The disparity between its top line and bottom line growth is mostly due to a rise in costs. Although the business saw a modest improvement in its selling, general and administrative expenses in relation to revenue, the business had to contend with its cost of goods sold rising from 74.5% of sales to 77%.

Smucker performed slightly better. In its four most recent fiscal years, the business benefited from a 10% rise in its bottom line, with net income rising from $494.1 million to $544.2 million. Just as in the case of ConAgra, Smucker saw some improvements in its selling, general and administrative expenses, but was negatively affected by a rise in its cost of goods sold.

Over this timeframe, Mondelez performed the worse. During the past four years, the company saw its net income (after adjusting for one-time gains from discontinued operations) drop 40% from $2.9 billion to $1.7 billion. This was driven largely by a decline in the company's revenue but can also be attributed to its selling, general and administrative expenses rising from 22.7% of sales to 26.2%.

Foolish takeaway
Heading into earnings, it's difficult to tell what Smucker will report. For this reason, the Foolish investor should make a decision on whether or not to invest in the company based on it's long-term performance as opposed to short-term expectations. Using this concept as a base point, it looks like Smucker is a relatively attractive company. Admittedly, it did grow slightly slower than ConAgra, but its rise in profitability more than makes up for it and both measures leave Mondelez in the dust.

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