You can find value in some pretty unusual spots, but poorly followed companies with repeatable and essential businesses are some of the best places to look. With that in mind, I sniffed down the trail of International Flavors and Fragrances
Most likely, you have something in your home that IFF touched. The company provides fragrances to major international consumer companies in the cosmetics, toiletries, soap, food, and beverage markets. What's more, it's something of a stealth international play as well, since more than two-thirds of the company's sales come from outside North America.
Alas, the third quarter proved to be challenging for this company. Adjusting for the divestiture of a European operation, revenue was down 1% for the quarter as fragrance sales declined 1% and flavor sales increased 1%. Although this top-line performance isn't great, there were some more favorable details -- for instance, sales to top customers were up about 6% and sales of fine fragrance rose about 1%.
Operating performance, though, was worse. Gross margin slipped a bit on higher unrecovered raw-material costs, and selling, general, and administrative expenses were higher in part because of costs associated with a contamination problem. The operating margin, then, slipped almost 300 basis points, and operating income was down 15%.
While this company's cash flow history is a bit erratic, it nevertheless generates a pretty reasonable level of free cash flow relative to sales. What's more, ongoing reinvestments in research and development should help keep new products (and the resultant revenue and cash flow) coming in the door.
And let's face it -- this really is an essential business. People buy Unilever's
Now, does this company have the scent of a value to it? Despite its hefty debt load -- nearly $700 million in total, versus more $900 million in equity -- and weak short-term results, I do like the repeatability of the business and the fact that the company is already well-positioned for growth in emerging markets like China and India. That said, I need to see a somewhat cheaper price before I would find this a truly sweet-smelling deal.
For more fragrant Foolishness:
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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).