J.M. Smucker Co. (SJM 0.85%), the maker of cupboard staples such as Folgers and Dunkin' Donuts coffee, Jif peanut butter, and Smucker's jam, had a good year in 2015. Its stock's total return, which includes dividends, was 25% -- much more appetizing than the S&P 500's 1.4% return. More significantly, the stock's 10-year total return is 291%, through Jan. 22, mincing the broader market's 87% return, and beating the returns of other companies in the packaged food category, such as Mondelez International and ConAgra.
Smucker's acquisition of Big Heart Pet Brands last March is largely responsible for its stock's performance in 2015. This move expanded the company into a relatively fast-growing new market, while rescuing it from several years of essentially flat revenue growth. The stock rose after the company released quarterly earnings results in 2015 that showed Big Heart's performance was on track.
Given this momentum, let's address the question: Could 2016 be Smucker's best year yet?
Smucker's piping-hot year: 2009's nearly 47% total return
Smucker's best year in the past 20-plus years was 2009, when its stock returned 46.7%. (I didn't go back through the stock's complete history, as it's been trading since 1959.) There are two primary reasons for the stock's caffeinated return in 2009: the company's 2008 Folgers acquisition and the broad market's strong performance. The S&P 500 returned nearly 27% in 2009, after being in the red 37% the previous year because of the financial crisis. The robust overall market surely acted as a tailwind to Smucker's stock, as well as the stocks of many other companies.
The Folgers acquisition that brought Smucker such top coffee brands as Folgers, Dunkin' Donuts, and Millstone has proved to be a great move. The company's coffee segment has been responsible for the lion's share of its revenue growth in the past few years. More importantly, the segment has provided a jolt to Smucker's earnings, as it sports a higher profit margin than the overall company average.
Could 2016's total return trump 2009's?
Anything is possible, but I don't think Smucker's total return will be 47% or more this year. There are two reasons: the strength (or lack thereof) of the overall market and the calendar year timing of the Big Heart acquisition in 2015 vs. the Folgers acquisition in 2008.
While it's early in the year, the market's not looking like it's going to have a blowout year like it did in 2009. So, Smucker's stock probably won't have the market tailwind in 2016 that it did in 2009.
The common denominator between 2009 and 2016 is that Smucker made a huge acquisition in each of the previous years. So, like 2009 with Folgers, 2016 will mark the first full year that Smucker's financial results include Big Heart. However, there's a relevant difference: the Big Heart deal closed in March 2015, while the Folgers deal was completed in November 2008. So, Folgers was included in Smucker's calendar year 2008 financial results for less than two months, while Big Heart was included in its calendar year 2015 results for more than 9 months. So, Smucker probably already got the big initial boost from the Big Heart acquisition in 2015.
2016 might not be the cat's meow, but could be a good year
There's a good possibility that the Smucker stock will have another robust year. There are two main reasons:
1. Big Heart could outperform
Smucker has historically been successful at identifying attractive acquisitions and incorporating them into its business. So, there's every reason to believe that the Big Heart buy will continue to prove to be a shrewd move. And Big Heart's size means that it will have a huge effect on Smucker's financials in 2016. The pet food maker, which had annual sales of $2.2 billion at the time of the acquisition, accounted for about 28% of Smucker's total revenue in its fiscal second quarter of 2015, for the period ending in October. That made it about the same size as the company's coffee segment.
Big Heart is a considerable player in the $21 billion U.S. pet food business, making such favorites as Milk-Bone, Kibbles 'n Bits, and Meow Mix. Its position as the No. 1 maker of pet snacks probably provides it with solid pricing power, as most people would probably cut back on many things before they denied their beloved Rover or Kitty her treats. Moreover, the pet-food market is one of the fastest-growing areas in the center of the [grocery] store.
2. The coffee segment's results could continue to improve
Smucker's coffee segment accounted for about 28% of its total sales in its most recently reported quarter – and a greater portion of its operating income. The company benefited in 2015 from the steady drop in green coffee bean prices after they spiked up in 2014 because of the Brazilian drought. To date in 2016, prices are still trending downward.
If this drop in its major commodity cost continues, Smucker's coffee segment's results should continue to improve. However, commodity costs are impossible to predict, as they're heavily dependent upon weather and other unpredictable factors.
The final drop ...
Given Smucker's well-earned reputation for operational efficiency and choosing acquisitions wisely, it seems probable that the Big Heart buy will turn out to be a shrewd move. Smucker expects this acquisition to be slightly accretive to its fiscal 2016 earnings, excluding one-time costs, after taking into account the synergies and the impact of the additional common shares issued to Big Heart's holding company. If this proves accurate, Smucker's stock price will probably rise in 2016.