Tyson Foods (NYSE:TSN) has experienced a good run in the past 12 months, from only $16.80 per share to more than $29.40 per share. The share increase price has been supported by the company's recent fourth-quarter earnings results.
The stock, however, still looks quite cheap, being valued at only 6.5 times its EV/EBITDA, or enterprise value/earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization. Should investors buy Tyson Foods after its strong fourth-quarter earnings results?
A leading position in all major business categories
In the fourth quarter, the company achieved record sales of $8.9 billion, 7% higher than the year-ago period. Its operating income grew by 18% to $416 million. Moreover, Tyson Foods has been returning cash to shareholders via both dividend payments and share buybacks.
In the fourth quarter, the company retired 9.9 million shares for $300 million. It also plans to increase its quarterly dividend by 50%, from $0.05 to $0.075 per share. Thus, for fiscal 2013, around $650 million has been returned to shareholders, including $100 million in dividends and $550 million to buy back 21.1 million shares.
The growth in Tyson Foods' operating performance was partly driven by the two acquisitions in its Prepared Foods segment, Don Julio and Circle Foods. In the fourth quarter, Prepared Foods' revenue came in at $881 million, a 5.2% increase compared to the same period last year. In addition, the company is restructuring, separating its poultry and prepared foods division to enhance the focus on these two main growth areas.
What also makes Tyson Foods interesting is its leadership position in chicken and beef businesses, which are the two biggest revenue contributors of the company. Tyson Foods is the market leader in the U.S., with around 21% total U.S. chicken production, while the market share of competitor Pilgrim's Pride (NASDAQ:PPC) was a bit lower at 19%. In the beef business, Tyson Foods also has the leading position with 26% of the market share, while Cargill ranks second with 23% market share.
Looking forward, Tyson Foods expects that the chicken segment could grow by around 5%-7% in fiscal 2014, along with $500 million lower feed costs, while the beef segment could be below its normalized growth range of 2.5%-4.5%. The Prepared Foods segment will experience some improvements in operations and pricing to offset the rising raw material costs. Tyson Foods also seems to be quite optimistic about the pork business, due to the rising hog supplies and improvement in export, which could lead to growth of 6%-8% in its pork business.
Hillshire and Pilgrim's will deliver more value to investors
With the leading position in many key meat businesses in the US, Tyson Foods seems to be quite cheaply valued at 6.5 times its EV/EBITDA, the lowest among its peers, including Pilgrim's Pride and Hillshire Brands (UNKNOWN:HSH.DL). Pilgrim's Pride has a bit higher EBITDA multiple of 6.76, while Hillshire Brands is the most expensively valued at 9.3 times its EV/EBITDA.
Pilgrim's Pride has managed to bring its debt level to a more comfortable level recently. The company has finalized the amendment to its credit facility in August this year, improving its net debt position by as much as 47% since 2012. The company reported that it had total liquidity of more than $1 billion, with a leverage ratio of only 0.87 times its EBITDA. Its leverage ratio is quite compatible with that of Tyson Foods, which had a leverage ratio of 0.8. Pilgrim's Pride is also looking to further reduce its debt to strengthen its balance sheet and improve its profitability.
Hillshire Brands employs the highest leverage ratio among the three, at 1.34 times its EBITDA. Hillshire Brands committed to grow its business via brand building and innovation across its brands. Moreover, it could also focus on cost efficiency to further improve the business profitability. It has set a long-term goal on innovation to be around 13%-15% of its annual revenue from new products launched in the prior three years. The company has successfully increased that metric from 9% to 11% last year. I think with more innovations across its core brands coming, the company could achieve that long-term target in the next several years.
My Foolish take
Tyson Foods could be a good pick because of the low valuation and its leading positions in all major meat categories, including chicken, beef and pork. Moreover, with the increasing dividends and consistent share repurchases, Tyson Foods' share price could experience a good boost in the near future.