Editor's note: As a follow-up to "Whole Foods' Stock Price Has Me Dancing in the Aisles," TheStreet.com senior correspondent and You're So Money author Farnoosh Torabi replies to reader questions and comments regarding her bullish stance.
It seems no matter what the viewpoint, readers -- which include active investors, former
employees and organic foodies -- are quite taken by Whole Foods' stock debacle. Here is a batch of reader emails and my responses.
I enjoyed your article very much, and agree that Whole Foods is undervalued at this point. However, I think the key will be in the profit/operating margins, and I have not been completely convinced they will expand significantly. Still, I think it could be a very good investment over the years, but in my opinion there are some better green investments. (Like you, it is very important for me to invest in green and socially responsible companies.)
My two favorite stocks are Energy Conversion Devices (ENER) , which has an amazing solar technology...The other company I like very much is Metabolix (MBLX) , which I consider very cheap -- given its huge growth prospects...practically no debt.
If you're an investor focusing on the "green" theme, I think Sergio offers two interesting stock alternatives. I particularly like the fact that Metabolix has no debt -- especially in this credit crunch. A company with cash is king!
Now, here is an excerpt from a contrasting view on Whole Foods from a former employee.
Whole Foods isn't all what you think...I guess we sold our image perfect, but after 15 years of working for and with Whole Foods...I know things upper management did that would make California cry (when we opened stores there). I sold my stocks seven years ago and I made off well...I am not a bitter ex-employee...I left on my own.
Thanks for the insider perspective, Stuart. Employee satisfaction is a big part of a company's morale and bottom line.
Stuart went on to say that he wasn't particularly pleased with the management team. But as a self-described "rich hippie," my guess is, even though he's sold his stock, Stuart will still shop at Whole Foods.
A question from Michael:
One interesting thing that you mentioned about Whole Foods is that it has high margins relative to the grocery business. Much of the bearishness surrounding Whole Foods is related to slumps in consumer spending and large increases in food prices. Do you think increases in food prices may have the effect of increasing margins for Whole Foods? Depending on the elasticity of demand for high quality, green groceries, price increases may not affect demand, especially for the highbrow Whole Foods clientele.
I think in many ways, Michael answered his own question, here.
Yes, I do think that Whole Foods' "highbrow" customers may not be that affected by the increase in food costs. While there is bearishness over the stock due to slumps in overall consumer demand and inflation, I think Whole Foods' main earnings concern deals with the exuberant costs related to its acquisition and integration of the Wild Oats chains and its rapid expansion plans throughout the country.
Whole Foods does look very attractive at these levels and should be a good long term investment. However, in the short term (one to two years), I think their revenue will slow dramatically because of the current economic slowdown. We used to shop there because of their high quality foods, but they don't call it Whole Foods "Whole Paycheck" for nothing. We haven't visited the store in over a year just because it's so expensive in the current environment and we've tightened our household budget
Shayan's email feeds into Michael's point above -- that the consumer slowdown will be hurtful to Whole Foods. True, families are increasingly looking to cut corners on their spending and skipping the $35-per-pound fish is one way...like my next reader, Doug.
I really enjoyed your piece on Whole Foods. I recently added it to my stocks to track once again, as I am at a Whole Foods almost every day here in the Los Angeles area...While I love the experience, I am concerned they have expanded too far, too fast and may be paying the price as we have the perfect storm of belt-tightening happening right now.
While I can afford $35.00 per pound for fresh fish, I just can't get myself to dish it out..
Doug is the perfect example of an enthusiastic shopper who's looking beyond Whole Foods' aisles of Kashi cereal and noticing some of the questionable business decisions the grocer is making, like expanding too rapidly. Great insight. and bon appetite!
Ways to Play $1K
While Whole Foods tries to get out of its rough patch, a faster way to turn a profit on $1,000 may be beyond our borders and in the world of foreign currency trading. That will be my closer look next week. In the meantime, what do you
think about currencies? I look forward to hearing from you at
Farnoosh Torabi joined TheStreet.com TV in July 2006 as the site's first official video correspondent. Previously, Farnoosh was a business producer and on-air reporter for NY1 News, Time Warner's 24-hour news channel in New York City. Farnoosh is a regular columnist for AM New York and has written for Money, Time, New York Daily News and Newsday. Farnoosh is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, with a degree in Finance and International Business and holds a M.A. from the Columbia School of Journalism. In keeping with TheStreet.com's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks.