With its shares up some 32% on the year to date, including a three-month gain of 12%, it would seem investors in Hormel Foods (HRL) - Get Hormel Foods Corporation Report -- known for brands such as Spam and Skippy peanut butter -- have been well fed on profits and shareholder value. Ahead of the company's fourth-quarter fiscal 2015 earnings results Tuesday, investors want to know to what extent Hormel's outperformance can continue.
For the quarter that ended in October, analysts on average expect earnings to be 69 cents a share on revenue of $2.5 billion, compared to the year-ago quarter, when Hormel earned 63 cents a share on revenue of $2.54 billion. For the full year, earnings are projected to climb 17% to $2.61 a share, while revenue of $9.4 billion would yield an increase of about 1%.
Hormel -- at around $67 per share -- trades at near all-time highs. Its stock performance stands out even more not only when compared to the 2% gain in the S&P 500 (SPX) index, but also the 8% decline of the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) - Get SPDR S&P Retail ETF Report . And, with its P/E now at 27 -- six points higher than the S&P 500 -- the market has already rewarded the Minnesota-based company for its execution.
Sure, Hormel stock may not be a bargain, but owing to strong grocery products sales, which have offset weak sales in its refrigerated foods business, Hormel is posting not only higher gross profit margins, but also higher-than-expected segment operating margins. And the company has done this despite the strong U.S. dollar pressuring sales of large multinational companies.
From that standpoint, despite the stock's consensus hold rating, it's more important to focus on the future value Hormel is working to create for its shareholders. In July, for instance, Hormel completed its $775 million acquisition of organic meat producer Applegate Farms. Applegate gives Hormel an established food company that can capitalize on the growth in popularity of organic protein -- meats that come from animals fed a 100% vegetarian diet with no antibiotics or growth hormones.
To the extent Hormel can grow its presence in this category, while also improving cost structures and synergies with its new acquisition, the stock should continue to climb. That's to say nothing of the merger synergies Hormel has already begun to realize from its 2014 acquisition of CytoSport, the maker of Muscle Milk.
All told, whether its shares are looking relatively expensive stock or not, it would be a mistake to sell a winner like Hormel, which is projected to grow earnings at an average annual rate of 10% in the next five years. Not only is that earnings growth rate almost twice what the S&P 500 is expected to deliver, the company also pays a 25-cent quarterly dividend that yields 1.50% annually.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.