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3 Reasons Mondelez International Inc.'s Stock Could Fall

By Nickey Friedman - Oct 16, 2014 at 12:00PM

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The junk food business may not be as safe as you think, and I'm not referring to tooth decay.

Although our kids may not always agree, junk food is a want and not a need. For that reason Mondelez International's ( MDLZ 1.93% ) business is far from insulated from risk. Since hitting a new high back in July, the company's stock price has been falling along with the general market, presumably due to concern over the world economy and discretionary spending. Here are three reasons the formerly sweet stock price could get even sourer.

Reason 1: The power of the regions
For the second fiscal quarter of this year, organic net revenue rose 1.2%. At first glance, it might seem like the snack food maker has a stable, if boring, business, slowly growing with the world population -- but it's not that simple.

Geographically, the numbers have been all over the map. For example, in the last reported quarter net organic revenues for Latin America, the Middle East & Africa, and North America were up 11.8% to $1.2 billion, 6.3% to $1.0 billion, and 2.7% to $1.7 billion, respectively.

Meanwhile, net organic revenue plunged in Asia and Europe by 8.3% to $1.2 billion and 1.9% to $3.4 billion respectively. Each individual geographical part is moving much faster than the overall growth number suggests, so any further weakness in just one region could have dramatically negative effects on the results as a whole.

What if, for example, the declines in Asia or Europe begin to pick up momentum? These two regions represent nearly half of Mondelez's overall revenue.

Reason 2: Speaking of Europe...
Commodity prices have been soaring, especially for cocoa due to supply fears from Ebola-infested countries. Mondelez is trying to pass these cost increases onto customers, but in Europe it's not having enough luck.

During the most recent conference call, CEO Irene Rosenfeld warned that customers "acted quite severely" to the price increases, leading to the loss of some distributors. Competitors weren't so quick to follow the company with price increases, so it is only magnifying the backlash.

Even being temporary off the shelves in some places can have lasting negative effects. Marketing isn't just about billboards and TV ads -- it also includes a physical presence on shelves.

The annual report for Mondelez warns, "Maintaining, extending and expanding our reputation and brand image is essential to our business success." If European customers grow angrier, the financial consequences could be extended further.

Reason 3: Breaking the bank and foreign currency
First, according to Rosenfeld, nearly half of the input cost increases weren't even from commodity prices, but just due to weakening currencies in emerging markets. This is a factor largely beyond Mondelez's control, but factors beyond the company's control are particularly important to watch for.

Mondelez is very generous with its dividend and stock buyback policy. The company paid an annual dividends of around $1 billion, and repurchased shares the first half of this year for a nearly $2 billion annual pace.

At the end of last quarter Mondelez had $4.2 billion in short-term debt and borrowing and another $14.3 billion in long-term debt not including other long-term liabilities.

Compare that stockpile of financial obligations to the $2.1 billion in cash it last reported. Shouldn't the company save up for a rainy day? It might want to consider paying down more debt or accumulating more cash before so aggressively loosening the purse strings.

Last quarter, 23.4% of its pre-tax operating income went toward interest expense on debt. If the company gets into any trouble, even if just temporary, Mondelez isn't leaving itself much of a cushion to fall back on.

Foolish thoughts
The annual dividend Mondelez currently pays of $0.60 per share is a yield of less than 2% which might not be all that enticing enough to bring in income investors. Also, snack business investing isn't as simple as you may think. You have many highly volatile moving parts geographically, with customers, with currency, and with commodity (cocoa) inputs.  Who knows what other problems might come out of left field and Mondelez seems to not be as cautious as it can be.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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