The stock symbol for the largest U.S. egg producer may be CALM, but shares of Cal-Maine Foods
Last quarter, the company earned $1.49 per share -- up over 800%. Annualized, the stock trades at just 7 times earnings. But, don't annualize! Egg prices are cyclical. The low-profit business has been consolidating for years, but there were still 64 producers with 1 million or more layers in 2001. Expect capacity to expand quickly and, by 2005, for egg producers to be cackling about overcapacity again -- and low margins.
And with $106 million in total debt and $10 million in cash, Cal-Maine will not be cash-rich overnight -- even with $17.6 million flowing in last quarter. Meanwhile, the price of grain -- the food of the hens -- is rising. Instead of joining the flock, investors might find a safer roost elsewhere.
As evidence, consider the famous Atkins Diet and its author's favorite nut -- the macadamia. Hawaii's largest grower, ML Macadamia OrchardsLP
The point is its food we are talking about! Its history is boom and bust. With that history, why not squirrel-away your assets in better, broader-based, long-term food-related opportunities? Investors looking to do so might start with these:
Beer giant Anheuser-Busch
Why are these better bets? For one thing, these guys are not in the commodity business. For another, if trends change, they're better diversified and will not likely suffer surprise operating losses. More likely, they can tailor their well-known brands to the latest craze.
Finally, they're not up more than 1,000% on the year. Talk all you want about mad cows, but if you ask me, Cal-Maine has really flown the coup.
W.D. Crotty has five layers and a rooster keeping his egg costs down and his "herd" on the rise. You can e-mail him at email@example.com or discuss stocks with him and other investors on The Motley Fool's discussion boards. For a 30-day free trial to the discussion boards, click here.
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