Between 2015 and 2050, the world's population is forecast to rise from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion. That means there will be 2.4 billion extra mouths to feed within the next 35 years. Therefore, the supply of food will have to increase significantly to produce sufficient food for a population that's expected to be a third higher than it is today. And that, in turn, is a key reason buying Deere & Company (NYSE:DE) right now could be a profitable long-term move, since its main focus is on providing the equipment and machinery to bolster world food supplies.
Moreover, with 70% of the world's population forecast to be living in cities by 2050, up from 50% today, it seems likely that improved technology will be required to supply sufficient food. In other words, less-labor-intensive methods are likely to be sought, and one such space in which Deere has the potential to grow its offering is in the autonomous-vehicle space.
Deere has invested heavily in autonomous vehicles in recent years and has become the biggest seller of such vehicles in the world. This standing should provide the company with a competitive advantage and could be a potential catalyst for higher sales and earnings growth moving forward. It could also allow it to remain relevant in an increasingly technologically advanced global economy.
Clearly, Deere is hurting from reduced demand for its products as a result of falling commodity prices. And with the company's products being built to last, many farmers and agriculture operations are buying secondhand or keeping existing equipment in use longer than they otherwise would. Although this situation may continue in the short run, all commodity markets operate in cycles, and Deere appears to be responding prudently to the short-term challenges it faces.
For example, Deere is aiming to increase sales outside the U.S., with the company seeking to generate over half of its sales from outside North America by 2018. For comparison, in 2010, only around one-third of its sales were international. And with a stronger dollar likely to be a feature of the medium term as monetary policy diverges around the globe, exporters such as Deere could stand to benefit.
This increase in exports is also set to help double Deere's sales between 2010 and 2018, which, given the challenging outlook for commodity prices and the agricultural space, would be a strong result. Furthermore, Deere is intent on delivering a mid-cycle operating margin of 12% by 2018 as it seeks to more accurately align management compensation with the profitability of the business. And with asset turnover expected to improve to 2.5 times by 2018, Deere's efficiency as a business is on the upswing.
However, Deere's guidance for 2016 is highly disappointing. For example, it expects U.S. and Canadian demand for agricultural equipment to fall by between 15% and 20%, with declines across its other geographic segments, too. In addition, Deere's construction industry equipment sales are expected to fall by 5%, resulting in a forecast fall in equipment sales of 7% on a group basis. This situation is due to cause a fall in EPS of 27%, which could cause Deere's share price to come under pressure in the coming months.
Undoubtedly, Deere's sales are being hurt in the short run because of the aforementioned ebb in commodity prices. However, for long-term value investors, such times in a cycle can be a sound time to invest -- particularly since Deere has the right strategy not only to slash costs and become more efficient, but also to benefit from a tailwind provided by higher long-term demand for its products.
With its shares trading on a price-to-free cash flow ratio of 7.6 and yielding 3.3% from a dividend that's increased by 114% since 2010, now seems to be the perfect time to buy John Deere for the long term.