It's a simple formula: Start cheap, get them addicted, and raise prices. In that spirit, Sara Lee
Something tastes stale, though. Specifically, management is less optimistic about its full-year guidance. Sara Lee now expects adjusted 2009 results to fall between $0.99 and $1.06 per share vs. its previous guidance of $1.12 to $1.20 per share.
Are you going to eat that?
The negative outlook for the strengthening dollar's effect on its currency mix is one of the reasons for the revision, and management's self-imposed freeze on share repurchases definitely limits its flexibility enough to warrant the more conservative estimates.
Sara Lee has 25 million shares authorized for repurchase, but it suspended all buybacks pending the improvement of conditions in the credit markets. The ominous news hit home quickly for investors, and shares were trading 10% lower only a few hours after the earnings call last Wednesday. However, the company did an about-face the very next day, stating it had decided "to re-enter the market to buy back its shares on an opportunistic basis."
Management cited price escalation as the primary driver of its strong sales growth, but in its North American retail business, unit volumes grew in almost every category, which indicates inelastic demand -- a common trait of consumer products with addictive qualities.
Maybe its customers are so hooked that they're simply undeterred by price increases, or perhaps new markets are just now discovering Sara Lee's brands and love them; either way, they're selling like hotcakes.
Sara Lee may become appetizing if it gets any cheaper, so don't take it off the menu entirely. In the meantime, those seeking exposure to the sector might find better prospects in companies like ConAgra