Shares of Kellogg Co. fell further to a more than six-year low Friday, after analyst Ken Goldman at JPMorgan Chase & Co. said he left a recent meeting with management more worried than hopeful about the cereal and snacks company’s earnings outlook.
Kellogg’s stock K, -0.86% had tumbled 5.6% on Thursday, after the consumer- goods outfit reported fourth-quarter earnings that topped expectations and sales that matched, despite weakness in the U.S. However, the company provided downbeat profit guidance for the year, with the first half expected to be “lighter” than the second, amid plans for increased spending and expectations that cost inflation will accelerate. SeeEarnings Watch.
“Negative mix and cost impacts from the expansion of alternative pack formats and channels, particularly on-the-go offerings, will be a headwind to gross profit margin, moderating in the second half,” the company said in its earnings release.
JPMorgan’s Goldman followed the post-earnings conference call with analysts with his own meeting with Kellogg’s management team, after which he cut his earnings estimates and slashed his stock-price target to $56 from $60, while reiterating his neutral rating on the company.
“When we spoke with management after the earnings call, we hoped to get a sense that guidance was arguably conservative,” Goldman wrote in a note to clients. “Alas, this was not the case; in fact, we came away from our discussion incrementally concerned about 1Q19.”
Kellogg’s stock fell a further 1.5% Friday afternoon, putting it on track to close below $55 for the first time since November 2012. Shares have dropped 17% over the past 12 months, while the SPDR Consumer Staples Select Sector exchange-traded fund XLP, +0.47% has slipped 0.2% and the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.07% has gained 4.4%.
Goldman said Kellogg’s 2019 earnings outlook, which excludes the impact of currency translation, by his reckoning would be lower by about 5 cents a share if accounting for currency.
And Goldman said he also believes that the prices Kellogg can get for selling its cookies, fruits, snacks, pie crust and ice cream cones businesses will further reduce earnings, given that he doesn’t view the current environment in food as a seller’s market.
In addition, Goldman said he is no longer confident that Kellogg’s RXBAR business will grow sales by about 25% this year, as management acknowledged that takeaway growth trends could take time to come back, in the wake of recalls of a variety of bars for possible contamination from peanut allergens.
Goldman followed by cutting his first-quarter 2019 EPS estimate to 92 cents from $1.02, compared with the current FactSet consensus of 97 cents. He lowered his 2019 estimate to $3.90 from $4.14 and his 2020 estimate to $4.03 from $4.40.
“One might argue that we are taking our numbers down too far, but until we see an indication that margin erosion is waning, we think it is prudent to model conservatively,” Goldman wrote.