Last December, I labeled diversified international agribusiness and transportation company Seaboard
Well, fast-forward a little more than six months, and the stock is $1,643 a share, up roughly $71 in trading today. And although its price-to-earnings ratio is up 40% since December, it's still a meager 9.7 times earnings.
Now, look at this one-year chart to see what a three-bagger looks like.
Seaboard, with almost $3 billion in sales, could easily be a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick because the company is not followed by a single Wall Street analyst, though parts of its business don't quite fit the profile. Talk about flying under the radar!
So, is this invisible titan ready to run some more?
A month ago, Seaboard announced it is selling third-party commodity-trading operations, which represented 23.3% of fiscal year 2004 sales but a much smaller percentage of income. And the streamlining is not just through asset sales. The company also announced last month that it was beefing up, so to speak, its bacon-processing operation with a $45 million acquisition of processing company Daily's.
If there's a knock against Seaboard, look at its latest earnings report: There is not a single word about the results or the outlook. You have to go to the company's website and read the Securities and Exchange Commission filing to find all the details. (It's worth the read.)
What has driven earnings per share 2.5 times higher (to $54.72 a share) from the comparable quarter last year was, in part, a doubling of operating income in the pork-processing operation (51% of total income) and the commodity-trading and milling operation (20% of total income). But the really big booster was a tripling of income in shipping operations, which now stands at 23% of total income.
While Smithfield Foods
When you look at shipping companies, the P/E comparison gets sticky. International Shipholding
Also noteworthy is that a significant part of the company's revenue stream hinges on commodity products' pricing environment, an inherently volatile arena subject to market whims and broad-based shifts in global supply and demand. That injects a degree of unpredictability into its earnings stream that most investors will not be comfortable with.
So, Seaboard is under the radar, but its earnings explosion has been rewarded. It's doing well and is fattening its balance sheet. But the long-term outlook for its earnings is probably sideways, given the emergence of more shipping bandwidth and changing weather in commodities markets, and its P/E will probably shrink.
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