As we enter the second half of 2014, it may be a good time to go over the first six months of the year in the search for buying opportunities in companies with attractive growth prospects and trading at discounted prices. Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM ) , SodaStream (NASDAQ: SODA ) , and World Wrestling Entertainment (NYSE: WWE ) are each down considerably in 2014, and they offer substantial upside potential for investors willing to take a contrarian position.
Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market has fallen more than 32% year to date. Competition has been increasing in the organics and natural food business, and this is generating slowing sales growth and margin pressure for Whole Foods. Management has reduced its forward guidance over the last three consecutive quarters, and this is a valid reason for concern.
However, the company is still forecasting sales growth of between 10.5% and 11% in the coming quarter, a level of growth that most traditional grocery stores can only envy. Management acknowledges that growing competition is becoming a problem, and Whole Foods is planning to tackle the situation via a combination of lower prices and an enhanced customer experience to consolidate its competitive differentiation.
To some degree, Whole Foods Market is a victim of its own success, attracting competition in the highly profitable business of organic and healthy products. But the company still has enormous room for expansion; management estimates that Whole Foods can build 1,200 stores in the U.S., versus a current base of 379 locations. Besides, international markets are still practically virgin territory for Whole Foods.
Whole Foods Market may be maturing and facing increased competitive pressure, but the business is not rotten by any means. Far from that, Whole Foods is an industry leader in a remarkably attractive category, and the company has enough brand differentiation and a reputation for quality to allow it to continue capitalizing on its opportunities for growth in the years ahead.
SodaStream is losing fizz lately: Shares of the home-soda pioneer are down by more than 33% in 2014, and they have lost more than 52% in the last 12 months. SodaStream reported really dismal sales for the last quarter of 2013. Many retailers were caught with excessive inventory levels, and this affected sales in the U.S. in the last quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.
Sales in the U.S. declined 28% year over year during the last quarter. However, SodaStream is doing much better in the rest of the world. Sales in Western Europe increased by 17%, sales in the Asia-Pacific region grew 28%, and Africa delivered a revenue increase of 34%.
Besides, first-quarter carbonator sales in the U.S. increased 27% to a record 1.4 million units. Demand for carbonators is driven by usage of the systems, and it doesn't depend much on performance during the holidays -- machines are a much more important component of total sales in the December quarter -- so strong carbonator demand in the U.S. could signal that overall sales problems were mostly due to weakness during the last quarter of 2013 and the remaining excess inventory.
Management expects sales during the full year 2014 to increase by 15% versus 2013; this would represent a material acceleration versus nearly flat total sales in the first quarter of the year. If SodaStream can deliver according to guidance, this would signal that the company is getting over its problems as inventories in the U.S. return to equilibrium levels, which could provide the fuel for considerable gains in SodaStream over the coming quarters.
World Wrestling Entertainment
World Wrestling Entertainment has fallen by 28% year to date, mostly because the company signed a new licensing deal with NBCUniversal that disappointed investors. On May 16, the stock fell by a breathtaking 43% as a reaction to the announcement; however, the steep decline in WWE could be an overreaction from the market.
While it's true that investors and analysts were expecting higher numbers because of the big increases obtained by other sports franchises such as Major League Soccer and NASCAR, World Wrestling Entertainment is still getting a substantial increase in the value of its contracts.
According to the press release: "The company estimates that it will increase the average annual value of these key television agreements to approximately $200 million, representing an increase of more than $90 million that is nearly three times the increase achieved in the previous round of negotiations."
The new agreement represents a considerable increase in revenues, and presumably also in profitability, since costs will most likely be relatively stable in comparison with revenues.
World Wrestling Entertainment has a particularly loyal fan base, and the company has recently launched its online subscription service called WWE Network. If the company can successfully attract fans around the world to its online platform, the currently depressed stock price could easily turn out to be a huge buying opportunity.
When shares of a company with promising growth potential fall due to excessive market pessimism and temporary difficulties, smart investors know they may be facing a buying opportunity. Whole Foods Market, SodaStream, and World Wrestling Entertainment are down considerably in the first half of 2014, and they offer considerable room for gains during the rest of the year and beyond.
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