Shares of Sysco (SYY -3.09%) fell 36.1% in the first half of 2020, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Like most stocks in the foodservice industry, Sysco crashed hard in February and March as the COVID-19 pandemic closed restaurants, followed by a solid rebound starting in April. The kitchen equipment and food products distributor simply fell a bit further than its peers in the difficult months.
The downhill slide started with February's second-quarter report. The results were solid enough, broadly matching Wall Street's expectations, but that was for a reporting period that ended in December 2019, before the coronavirus crisis entered North America. Taking the pandemic into account, Sysco declined to offer near-term guidance figures while reducing operating income expectations for its three-year growth plan.
Sysco's shares plunged hard when a few state governments started to close down sit-down dining services in local restaurants and the stock price took a dramatic 19.8% plunge on March 16, when the Center for Disease Control published nationwide social distancing guidelines.
Sysco's market bottom fell a couple of days after the CDC proclamation, and the stock has more than doubled from that 52-week trough. Looking ahead, Sysco investors are worried that the restaurant sector's return to full health could take a long time. The step-by-step normalization we have seen so far will limit the foot traffic in sit-down dining locations for many months to come. That will hurt Sysco's business in the short to medium term.
On the upside, Sysco runs a tight ship with some of the strongest profit margins in its industry and the balance sheet holds $2.3 billion in cash reserves. This company is poised to survive the COVID-19 storm even if it lasts for years, which makes it a solid buy for long-term investors at these low prices.