Great products do not necessarily translate into great investments -- just check out the train wreck at Krispy Kreme
Excluding a $0.03 charge from last year, fourth-quarter earnings released this morning rose 17% to $0.68 on sales that advanced 7.5% to $1.27 billion -- with both totals setting new highs. Full-year results also broke records as earnings (including a one-time tax-related gain of $0.24) climbed 33% to $2.30, or $590.9 million, on revenues of $4.4 billion. Hershey cited new and limited edition products -- many of which were rolled out around Halloween -- as the driving force behind the quarter's solid sales growth.
Not only has the company developed products specifically targeted to a more health-conscious crowd -- such as sugar-free York Peppermint Patties and SmartZone candy bars -- but it has also repackaged some old favorites with a twist. Kisses are now available with a caramel-injected center, and a variant of the popular Reese's peanut butter cup is being coated with white chocolate.
Many commodities have soared to record levels, and with geopolitical concerns disrupting the Ivory Coast growing season, cocoa too has spiked higher in recent months. Fortunately, Hershey has reduced its exposure to rising prices by hedging against the risk in the futures market. Furthermore, the company has decided to combat the problem by initiating widespread price increases at the wholesale level.
With domestic chocolate volume growth stagnating the last few years, Hershey -- which along with Nestle (OTC BB: NSRGY) and privately owned Mars control four-fifths of the market -- has struggled to deliver much in the way of top-line growth. Last year's revenues of $4.4 billion are little changed from where they stood back in 2000.
Still, many of the new products are helping Hershey gain market share, and the company sports one of the highest operating margins (20.4% last year) in the food business. Even with another double-digit gain in earnings penciled in for this year, though, the stock -- after running up more than 50% over the last 12 months -- is a little too decadently valued right now for my taste.
One is never enough, so try these:
Still haven't had enough? Talk to other chocoholics on the Fool's Give Me all the Chocolate discussion board.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter has an active sweet tooth but owns none of the companies mentioned.