Do you like candy? Of course you do! Everyone likes candy. (Literally. Everyone). That being the case -- and with your being a visitor to this website -- chances are good that you're here looking for a way to invest in candy companies such as Hershey Co. (NYSE:HSY) stock.
There's just one problem: Over the past several decades, giant corporations such as Nestle, Mars, Kraft (now Mondelez International (NASDAQ:MDLZ)) -- and Hershey itself -- have steadily gobbled up most small regional candy brands in America, absorbing once-famed small-batch brands into Big Candy.
Result: The number of candy companies that remain open to investment has been reduced dramatically. Basically, among U.S.-listed firms today, your investment choices have been whittled down to Hershey, Mondelez, and Tootsie Roll (NYSE:TR).
But that's not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, the lack of choice in candy selection and in candy investment opportunities is lamentable. But the smaller selection does make it easier for investors to examine their options, and determine which (if any) of these stocks make for profitable investments. Today, we're going to do just that -- take a good, hard look at Hershey stock, and at the stocks of its two U.S.-listed competitors, and try to figure out whether any of these stocks could earn you a profit.
Let's begin with a couple of predictions from Wall Street's best and brightest analysts -- and then I'll wrap up with a single prediction of my own.
Prediction No. 1: A sugar rush of sales
Wall Street analysts see Hershey stock growing its sales by about 23% over the next five years. That's twice the 11% pace of growth that these same analysts predict for Tootsie Roll (which also owns such brands as Junior Mints, Sugar Babies, and Charleston Chew) over the same time period. It's more than three times the 7% growth rate at candy industry giant Mondelez.
Also worth noting: Of the three candy companies named, Hershey is the only one whose sales growth expectations are still measuring up against analysts' predictions from last year. Sales projections for both Tootsie Roll and Mondelez, in contrast, have both come down -- and, in Mondelez's case, come down sharply.
Prediction No. 2: And an energy boost to earnings
Significant as Hershey's superiority in the area of sales growth is, the company's ability to outgrow its competitors on profits is more so -- and potentially more profitable for owners of Hershey stock. According to S&P Capital IQ estimates, the next five years should see Hershey grow its earnings by as much as 53% -- while Tootsie Roll tacks on just 19% total earnings growth, and Mondelez once again lags the pack, tallying an anemic 10.5% total profits growth over five years.
Once again, profits expectations for these companies have been tempered. But while Hershey's profits growth prospects remain largely intact (and Tootsie Roll's are actually looking a bit brighter), Mondelez's growth rate appears to be stalling.
Prediction No. 3: Hershey's success will be bittersweet for shareholders
So ... sales growth twice as fast as its closest rival, and earnings growth nearly three times as fast -- those are two big points in Hershey's favor. But do they mean you should buy shares of Hershey stock today?
In fact, they don't -- and I'll tell you why. Thanks largely to analysts' supersized expectations for Hershey sales and earnings growth, Hershey stock today sells for one of the highest price-to-earnings ratios in the industry. Its 25.6-times-earnings price tag looks slightly cheaper than the 28.1 P/E ratio at Tootsie Roll -- but it's nearly 50% higher than the 17.2 P/E at Mondelez.
The reason Hershey stock enjoys such a large premium in its valuation should by now be obvious: Hershey quite simply outclasses the competition. But even so, the stock's total projected earnings growth, annualized over five years, works out to just a modest 10% per year. Even with the stock's best-in-class dividend yield of 2.3%, that's not a lot of growth to support a 25.6 P/E. (It actually works out to a total return ratio of only 0.5 -- nowhere near the 1.0 ratio that value investors such as John Neff cite as the bare minimum for making a stock an attractive investment).
In other words, as good a company as Hershey may be, its stock does not appear to be a good value. And logically, if Hershey is the best candy company available for investment today -- that makes Mondelez and Tootsie Roll look even worse.
Rich Smith and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.