It was a tale of two fruit companies for the second quarter. While rival Fresh Del Monte
Chiquita's total sales climbed 20% as higher banana results boosted the top line. Operating margins eased off from the first quarter but still improved by about 300 basis points over last year (though the year-ago number does include a loss from a sale of a subsidiary). Net income for the quarter more than doubled.
Bananas continue to be the overwhelming source of operating income for Chiquita. Banana sales climbed 25%, and operating income nearly doubled. Sales volume rose by more than 7%, and strong European pricing offset slightly weak North American pricing and significantly weaker Asian pricing.
In the company's fresh select business (which includes whole produce other than bananas), sales grew 11% and operating income doubled. That operating income part sounds great until you realize that it amounts to $4 million -- nice, yes, but not really significant. For the new fresh cut business, contributions were minimal because Chiquita owned this business for only two days of the quarter.
I would like to discuss the company's balance sheet and cash flow statement, but management chooses not to provide this information with the financial press release. I see this as a rather considerable ongoing omission of detail from Chiquita's real owners (that is, the shareholders) and I'm not especially pleased about it.
Even without a balance sheet, it's clearly appropriate to say that the company took on a considerable amount of debt to fund the purchase of the Fresh Express business. The company exited the quarter with about $1.1 billion in debt, nearly quadruple the prior quarter's level.
As such, this is an acquisition that must work out if the company is to thrive. Luckily, this fresh cut business should represent a major opportunity. Chiquita is already engaged with large customers like McDonald's
I'm not sure what Fools should do with this stock. On one hand, there is a clear opportunity to grow this business, and present valuations don't suggest much in the way of major expectations. On the other hand, I'd prefer that management deign to offer us complete financial statements and stop trying to talk up the impact of the new Food and Drug Administration food pyramid on the produce business.
Investors who can cope with the inherent risks and volatility of a commodity business with high debt should certainly investigate further. In the meanwhile, other Fools looking for a bit more of a stable play on food could look toward Heinz
Fill up with more Foolish food Takes:
- Unilever: Slow Progress Is Still Progress
- Fresh Del Monte: Rotten or Ripe?
- ConAgra Leaves a Bad Taste
- Dozing on Del Monte Foods
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).