Updated from Dec. 5.
Performance Food (PFGC) - Get Report has lost nearly a quarter of its value, a pullback that has shrunk its price to earnings multiple sharply. The stock price has meandered back to where it traded at the start of the year, before it set on a rally that returned 30% in a six month period.
So if the multiple, which has fallen to 16 from 23, while the stock has traded down from $21.50 from $28, makes you think the price is compelling, then wade in. The stock moved up 4% Monday to $21.62, and has edged higher in Tuesday's intraday trading, ahead 15 cents to $21.77. So somebody is buying on the dip.
But if you're looking for an operational turnaround as a trigger to get you into the stock, the fact is, it's not flashing that buy signal. Not yet.
One of the challenges facing Performance Food Group, the third largest wholesale food distributor in the business, is its acute exposure to out of home food consumption. So, in effect, the answer to the question of whether the company is a buy yet is related to the answer to this question: are you eating out more often than you were at the start of the year? Less? The same?
In response to questions on a conference call following a disappointing earnings report last month, Performance Food management admitted that its customers - meaning, the restaurants you are or are not patronizing at significant levels - have been reporting what Performance executives described as a "soft environment."
That, not surprisingly, translates into challenges for Richmond, VA-based Performance Food, the purveyor that supplies the food to those restaurants. On the same post-earnings conference call, after an analyst asked management which direction Ebitda would go in the second quarter, CEO George Holm said, "Slightly down." Evidence, thus, of that the old Wall Street truism - i.e., that financial shortfalls are rarely a one-time phenomenon, but instead have a habit of repeating.
Performance management did make the argument that the company's financials in the October-ending fiscal first quarter got tripped up by a couple of exogenous events: the summer's two political conventions, followed by the summer Olympics, gave consumers reason to eat at home in front of the television. Those are obviously over.
But the food distribution business still faces a big hangover: deflation in food prices. Pricing pressure on certain food categories - seafood, for instance - seems to have bottomed out around last month. But deflation in other protein prices, especially beef, as well as the whole dairy business, continues and is expected to persist for the future, further hitting the company's revenues.
All of this might be worse news for Performance Food's private equity backers, Blackstone (BX) - Get Report and Wellspring Capital Management, which have owned the company since 2008. Performance Food's stock is hovering just above last October's IPO price of $19 a share. Blackstone did manage to cash in partly on Performance last month when the company priced a secondary stock offering at $22.85 a share, virtually all of the shares having been sold by the PE firm. None of the proceeds of the stock sale went to the company itself, and the secondary pumped another 10 million shares onto the public market.
It can be argued that Performance Food Group's headwinds - the secondary, food deflation and the summer's must-see television events - represented transitory challenges, and that the company either has or will get through them. But the reality is that the fundamentals haven't turned yet, and that the opportunity to get into the stock will be there down the road.