If you've followed international stocks over the past few years, you've surely noticed a trend: foreign companies are delisting their stocks from major U.S. exchanges.
Well-known foreign companies such as British Airways, Adecco, and Fiat either announced or implemented departures from the New York Stock Exchange last year. And we can expect this flight from New York to continue.
Nothing personal; it's just business
Why, you ask? Put simply, the extra costs of following Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) and various exchange regulations, along with anemic trading volumes on U.S. exchanges, often outweigh the benefits for these companies.
But although other large companies have packed their bags, you're unlikely to see large foreign companies with high daily trading volume -- think Melco PBL Entertainment
The good news is that you can still gain access to foreign companies that have delisted their shares. You can pick them up on the Pink Sheets.
Oh, the humanity!
The Fool typically discourages investors from patrolling the Pink Sheets, but using them to purchase quality foreign shares is an exception.
Even though companies find it costly to follow SOX and other U.S. exchange regulations, we shouldn't forget that those regulations were designed largely to protect shareholder interests, by requiring greater disclosure and adherence to U.S. GAAP. In fact, it can be much more difficult to interpret financial statements and estimate a valuation for companies not listed on a U.S. exchange.
To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, each week we'll take a look at a top-rated foreign company trading on the Pink Sheets, and we'll see how our 95,000-plus investors participating in Motley Fool CAPS, the Fool's free investing community, have rated it.
This week, we'll take a look at a $43 billion French food conglomerate that pays out a 2% dividend yield.
We must protect this yogurt!
Based in Paris, Groupe Danone (OTC BB: GDNNY.PK) is best-known in the States for its Evian water, Activia yogurt, and Stonyfield Farm organic foods brands. The company's wide geographical reach, and its grip on the dairy and packaged-water business, had led to rumors of takeovers from the likes of PepsiCo
That's because, following these takeover rumors from U.S.-based companies, the French government wanted to keep Danone a French company so badly that it enacted protectionist legislation, dubbed "The Danone Law," which forces foreign companies to disclose their intentions when eyeing French companies, so as to prevent hostile takeover bids.
With the French government in its corner, for better or for worse, what makes Danone an attractive stock?
CAPS investors will tell you there's a lot to like about the company. In fact, 80 of 81 players who have rated the company believe Danone shares will outperform the S&P 500. One such investor is tikiskis, who argued last May that Danone's success with international investments will keep it ahead of the competition: "Diversity is the name of the game here. This organization not only holds valuable product lines, but is [making] inroads to expanding into the world's largest up-and-coming market: China."
Since tikiski's pitch, however, the sweet success of Danone's 10-year relationship with Chinese beverage maker Wahaha has since turned sour. A Chinese court denied Danone ownership rights of the valuable Wahaha trademark in December. The two companies are still working on a resolution to the issue, but the relationship, unfortunately, will likely never be the same. Danone has consequently changed its accounting treatment for its Wahaha holdings, from full-consolidation to the "equity method." That basically means that it will report proportional profits from its investment, rather than including all of Wahaha's assets and liabilities on its balance sheet.
Despite the ongoing battle with Wahaha, Danone had a pretty solid 2007, with net sales up 7% to 14.6 billion euros, and earnings up 11% to 2.71 euros per share. This puts Danone's current P/E ratio at about 21, on par with competitors like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola
Danone's 2008 outlook is optimistic, with estimated sales growth between 8% and 10%, and earnings-per-share growth greater than 15%. If that outlook is realized, and the Wahaha dispute ended amicably, the current Danone share price will look like a value in hindsight.
Fool contributor Todd Wenning is ranked No. 335 out of more than 95,000 investors participating in CAPS. He does not own shares of any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cemex, which is also a recommendation of our Stock Advisor service. Coca-Cola is an Inside Value choice. Kraft is an Income Investor selection. The Fool has a disclosure policy.