Kraft Heinz Inc. (KHC) shares traded lower Thursday after analysts at Goldman Sachs lowered their rating on the packaged food group and cautioned that the beaten-down stock has "not found a floor" in terms of earnings weakness.
Goldman analyst Jason English kept his price target on the group unchanged at $29 per share, but lowered his rating to "neutral" amid concerns profits at the group will continue to shrink as rising costs pressures, particularly in dairy and protein markets, prove difficult to pass on to customers.
"Hope that step one of the turnaround - stabilizing EBITDA - is within reach was bolstered when management delivered a less substantial than expected (year-on-year earnings decline) for 3Q19," English wrote in a client note. "However, we believe that EBITDA has not yet found a floor. In our view, the company has under-invested in multiple areas and now faces renewed cost pressure in dairy, and potentially protein next year."
"We see little opportunity for new net-cost savings (net of investment needs) and expect cost pressure to be only partially passed through successfully, translating into sustained EBITDA erosion," English added.
Kraft Heinz shares were marked 2% lower Thursday to change hands at $32.21 each, a move that extends the stock's year-to-date gain to around 25.2% and values the Chicago, Illinois-based group at around $40.5 billion.
Late last month, Kraft Heinz said it was making "good progress" on in identifying the root causes of its past performance amid a wide-ranging turnaround plan under new CEO Miguel Patricio, and posted stronger-than-expected third quarter earnings that were driven in large part by favorable currency market gains and lower tax rates.
Core profits, however, are still likely to be hampered by a need to either invest across its supply chain, particularly in marketing and innovation in order to arrest a sales decline driven by consumers looking for healthier alternatives, or sell assets in order to shore up its debt-laden balance sheet.
Kraft Heinz revealed earlier this year that an internal probe found that "several" of its employees in the procurement area of the group had engaged in misconduct linked to the recognition of costs and rebates, leading to the restatement of its financial results for 2016 and 2017, but said that senior management wasn't involved.
Warren Buffett, whose Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) investment group owns around 26.7% of Kraft Heinz, said he took a $3 billion goodwill writedown on the holding earlier this year, and wasn't able to book anything from the stake in Berkshire's first quarter earnings report owing to the delay in Kraft filing its 10-k with the SEC.
"It's pretty unusual. It means we put in zero for earnings even though we received $130 million in dividends but we don't count that in earnings because it's an equity type of investment, " Buffett told reporters during Berkshire's annual general meeting in Omaha, Nebraska.