With soaring food prices eating into consumers' pockets, it's time to start looking at ways to make money from rising prices. Two names that spring to mind are agricultural machinery stalwart Deere & Company (DE 2.21%) and crop protection and seed company Corteva (CTVA 0.35%). Both are great ways to play the theme.
1. Deere is a buy
The agricultural and construction equipment company's stock was sold off heavily after its recent second-quarter earnings report. The problem isn't that Deere isn't receiving solid orders for its agricultural equipment. In fact, during the earnings call, management said, "At this time, our order book expands through the duration of fiscal '22 and even into early fiscal '23 for some product lines."
Instead, Deere's problems are finding a way to meet its production targets given ongoing supply chain constraints and component shortages that curtailed production in the first half and the reduction in its full-year cash-flow guidance. For reference, management previously guided toward operating cash flow of $6.2 billion to $6.6 billion and recently lowered it to $5.6 billion to $6 billion.
However, both of these issues may not prove relevant in the long term. First, the economy will likely work through many of these supply chain issues as it continues to open up after long periods of pandemic-related restrictions. Second, the reason the cash-flow guidance was cut comes down to greater working capital requirements. In other words, Deere is tying more money up in buying inventory (for equipment to be shipped), and the delays in shipments are holding back cash-flow generation. However, the equipment will eventually be shipped. Deere is achieving strong pricing for its products anyway -- pricing was responsible for 11 points of the 13% increase in production and precision agricultural revenue in the quarter. In other words, the increased working capital requirements are likely to drop into the cash-flow line in the future.
Given the ongoing strength in crop prices, demand for Deere's equipment looks assured, and the company's pricing power means it can generate margin expansion and grow profit while food prices remain high.
2. Corteva is making excellent progress on its strategic goals
The hike in crop prices comes at a good time for crop protection and seed company Corteva. The company is in the throes of a strategic transformation intended to grow sales and expand its profit margins to those in line with its peers.
There are two main drivers. The first is increasing sales of products under its own patents. An example is its Enlist seed traits and crop protection (herbicides) system. The seeds and herbicides are a complementary system as the seeds contain Enlist traits making them resistant to Corteva's herbicide. Selling relatively more seeds under its own patent is a major plus because it means Corteva can reduce the royalty payments it makes to other companies to use their technology. Indeed, on the last earnings call, CEO Charles Magro told investors, "the Enlist Seed platform is really performing very well beyond our expectations. We did say we expect 40% of the U.S. acres to be -- on that platform, and that will set us up nicely next year for meaningful royalty reductions in 2023."
The second driver is the operational restructuring of the company, something management has been urged to do by activist hedge funds. Magro took over in November, and he's already set about restructuring the company to work on a global business unit basis, with two new leaders appointed to head up the seeds and crop protection units accordingly. While there's no guarantee the changes will work, it is a sign of management's commitment to expanding sales and margin. Moreover, restructuring a company tends to be a whole lot easier when end markets are favorable. It all points to Corteva remaining on track to meet its strategic aims.