, founded in 1893, happens to be one of the largest growers of lemons and avocados in the US. If you've never heard of the company, there's probably good reason -- until 2010, shares traded on the "pink sheets," an area of the market where information is typically scarce and trading is light. That year, Limoneira listed on
, giving it a platform for greater visibility.
At year-end 2012, prior to recent acquisitions, the company owned about 6,200 acres of farm land in California, the equivalent of 9.7 square miles. That included 2,060 acres devoted to growing lemons, 1,169 acres to avocados, 1,654 acres to oranges, and 773 acres for "specialty citrus," and other crops including blood oranges, tangelos, grapefruit, pummelos, pistachios, cherries, peaches and olives. The company is also in the real estate business and has several projects in various stages of development in Santa Paula, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura.
What originally attracted me to Limoneira, besides the exposure to farmland, was the water rights associated with owned land, which at the end of 2012 included 16,200 acre feet of water. (An "acre foot" of water is equivalent to one acre of surface area, one foot deep, and is a commonly used measure for water resources.) In addition, the company owns shares in five not-for-profit water companies.
My original position in Limoneira was taken when the company still traded on the pink sheets. Despite the mystery that surrounds some of the companies that trade there, I've taken positions in some compelling farmland-related pink sheet companies. In Limoneira's case, prior to listing on Nasdaq, shares traded in the $165 range and volume was typically less than 10,000 shares a day. But a 1 for 10 reverse split prior to making the move to Nasdaq made the shares more "affordable" and more liquid.
Trading in Limoneira is rarely exciting but the shares are showing some life for the year to date and are up more than 40%. Part of that has to do with a recent land acquisition and expansion spree in which the company has been engaged. In July, the company entered into a long-term lease with water resource company
to plant up to 1,280 acres of lemons on some of that company's land.
In September, Limoneira also completed the acquisition of Associated Citrus Packers, which included a total of 1,300 acres of land with 950 acres of lemon orchards. On Monday, the company announced the purchase of 760 acres of agricultural land, including 400 acres of lemon orchards and 360 acres of cattle grazing land in Tulare County, Calif., for $8.75 million.
Limoneira's recent growth spurt, which was somewhat unexpected to me, has increased total owned acreage to nearly 8,300, and total owned or managed acres to more than 10,000. If you want exposure to lemons, this is the company.
Limoneira also has an interesting relationship with avocado company
, owning about 3.4% of that company's outstanding shares. In turn, Calavo owns about 15% of Limoneira's outstanding shares.
Limoneira does certainly not appear to be cheap at 56 times trailing earnings and 57 times the 2014 consensus earnings estimate, but this is not your typical company. It is an asset play, but one that may begin to show better earnings if recent acquisitions bear fruit (pun intended).
At the time of publication the author was long LMNR.
This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.
Jon is also the founder of the
, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.