I'm a banana nut. I don't care if it's bananas Foster, banana ice cream, or banana bread. I count Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat" song among my guilty pleasures, and I've polished off an entire hand of bananas in a single day -- something I don't advise anyone else to try.
But what of well-known banana and produce company Chiquita
While reported sales rose 30% in the fourth quarter, all of that growth and then some came from the inclusion of the acquired Fresh Express business. Exclude that from the picture, and it appears that revenue fell about 3%. Profitability is similarly murky to assess -- charges like those pertaining to damages from flooding in Honduras pushed the company to reported net losses, but even if you add back the charges, profits dipped significantly.
It doesn't appear that things will get any easier in the immediate future. The EU scrapped its old quota-and-tariff system for Latin American bananas, but replaced it with a pretty steep tariff-only system. And while plenty of parties are still protesting and challenging the new system, Chiquita will likely take a sizable hit to earnings in 2006.
That's not all. If weathercasters and insurance companies are correct, we might be facing a prolonged period of greater storm activity. More hurricanes and/or tropical storms in the places where Chiquita's products grow would obviously be bad news.
What's more, despite awards from customers such as McDonald's
It's anybody's guess how much damage to earnings (and cash flow) the new tariff program will cause, not to mention the higher costs in general from energy, shipping, packaging, and so forth. On the plus side, the company produces pretty good free cash flow, and the dividend should be secure. It's also not as though the stock is pricing in a whole lot of growth. Still, I think I'd rather focus my attention on ideas with less ominous headwinds in the immediate future.
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).