Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (Nasdaq: GMCR ) got roasted over the weekend in Barron's.
The stock of the rapidly growing company behind the Keurig home brewers and K-Cup refills trades at nearly 60 times next year's projected profitability, and the weekly financial publication thinks that's too much. Barron's says the stock is overvalued, and it's particularly perturbed about Green Mountain's relationship with the brands behind its 200-plus K-Cup flavors.
Green Mountain does business in two ways. Third-party coffee makers can sell their own K-Cups and pay Green Mountain 6.4 cents for every single-cup refill unit sold. In other cases, the companies sell the wholesale coffee to Green Mountain, which pays itself the royalty.
Diedrich Coffee (Nasdaq: DDRX ) is one of the latter companies. It's also the only publicly traded company to break out its sales to Green Mountain in its quarterly reports. In its latest 10-Q, Diedrich indicates that K-Cup sales to Green Mountain rose by a whopping 95.9% during the quarter, over the year-ago period.
"The magnitude of Green Mountain's self-fulfilling activities isn't clear," Barron's writes, in proposing that the practice gives Green Mountain the flexibility to manage earnings, if it had to, by loading up on orders to realize its royalties.
That's a decent conspiracy theory, but hands off that tinfoil hat.
For starters, Green Mountain is growing pretty quickly as it is. During the same quarter, overall K-Cup sales surged by 62% to 432 million units. The Keurig brewers sold even more briskly, at a healthy 148% pace ahead of last year. Given the nearly 1.2 million Keurig single-cup brewers sold through the first six months of fiscal 2009, there's clearly a pent-up demand out there. Combine that demand with last month's Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) rollout, and who could blame Green Mountain for stocking up on K-Cups to market?
More importantly, if Green Mountain were managing earnings by hoarding away wholesale coffee purchases to speed up K-Cup royalties, the result would show up as bloated inventory levels on Green Mountain's balance sheet, right? Well, inventory levels at the company are lower than they were when fiscal 2009 began, at the end of September. Fiscal-second-quarter inventory levels are 43% ahead of last year at the same time, a pace that is significantly slower than the company's actual sales growth rate.
But then, what do you expect from the mainstream financial media? If Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) posts another sorry quarter, the pundits will point to the McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) McCafe rollout as the cause, instead of the more accurate culprit -- the home-brewed premium java that Green Mountain is spearheading.
Barron's may very well be right about the stock's valuation. Green Mountain has run ahead of itself as one of the market's best growth-stock stories. The stock isn't cheap, but given the company's recent growth and future prospects, you can't expect a premium growth stock at a K-Cup price.
Conspiracy theories are fun fireside chatter and all, but after several market-thumping quarters for this company, the theories about earnings management are growing stale. The stock has more than doubled since I recommended it to Motley Fool Rule Breakers subscribers, and I think it's still early in its industry disruption.
Maybe Green Mountain really is that good, and smaller beansmiths such as Diedrich and Caribou Coffee (Nasdaq: CBOU ) are just the early coattail hoppers, making the most of the opportunity before the bigger boys, such as Starbucks and Peet's (Nasdaq: PEET ) , join the K-Cup parade.