NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Jim Cramer fills his blog on RealMoney every day with his up-to-the-minute reactions to what's happening in the market and his legendary ahead-of-the-crowd ideas. This week he blogged on:
- The obvious thing that's happening in the food industry, and
- Stocks that are worth more than you think.
Click here for information on RealMoney, where you can see all the blogs, including Jim Cramer's -- and reader comments -- in real time.
3 Food Giants Just Don't Get It
Posted at 12:216 p.m. EDT on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015
This morning I passed a billboard on top of the 2-3 subway entrance: "Fresh tilapia, $7 special," from Whole Foods (WFM) . It said loads about what's happening in the food industry right now.
I cannot recall a time when what's happening could be more obvious and I can't think of a time when a whole industry could be so obtuse. I am talking about the organic and natural wave that's embedded in the country, vs. what we are hearing in the last 24 hours from the likes of ConAgra (CAG - Get Report) , Kellogg (K - Get Report) and Campbell Soup (CPB - Get Report) .
On the one hand, the greatest natural and organic company of the age is trying to lure you in with tilapia, and judging by the Whole Foods earnings this week, the come-on is working.
On the other hand, judging by the dramatic shortfalls from these old-line packaged-food concerns, there has to be an acceptance that what they are doing won't work. They can write "new and improved," they can come up with tweaks of their current products, but in the end, as they say, the dogs won't eat it, and that's all that matters.
Go look at the tired brands from ConAgra, Kellogg and Campbell. They reek of our parents' pantries. ConAgra's almost a Saturday Night Live parody of brands. The kind that we used to see snapped up on Supermarket Sweep, when they couldn't find the hams!
Now I am incredibly conscious that every single one of these companies totally understands that they have to be natural and organic. But what they don't understand is that their brands are too tied to the old days to create the growth Wall Street wants. These stocks have become total fixed-income vehicles, and if that's satisfying to them, I get it. They can keep taking out costs, buying back shares -- if they have the capital -- and eke out some dividend boosts and hope that interest rates stay low so their stocks don't go down all the time and, instead, kind of run in place.
But I like growth and it's no secret that the best part of the growth of these companies is way behind them. In fact, the only part of any of these three companies that is a keeper is the Bolthouse Farms, the delicious fresh protein drinks and salad dressings. The latter are all that I buy these days. Yet, when you go to Campbell Soup's website you don't see anything about Bolthouse. In fact, if you put the name in the search tab of the site, it comes back, "We're sorry your search yielded no results. Please check that all words are spelled correctly."
Made me wonder, are they afraid people will realize that Bolthouse is owned by Campbell and therefore we won't buy it? At least General Mills (GIS - Get Report) is willing to list the brands of Annie's, its recent natural and organic acquisition, on its website. And its big push right now is to say that Cheerios are gluten free.
Again, though, these old-dog companies want to tell you their stuff isn't as bad for you as you think. Everything's defensive in nature.
Compare these companies to Hain Celestial (HAIN - Get Report) and Whitewave (WWAV) , the two great growth companies in the food business. They grow at double digits. They meet the unmet needs of parents everywhere who want to feed their kids good, good-tasting, good-for-you food. At one time, they could have been bought for a song by any of the old-line companies, and they could still be purchased, but it will kill their precious discipline that we don't even care much about. Still, the only answer for these companies is to buy either Hain or Whitewave and just plain reinvent themselves on the fly. Otherwise there will just be one quarter after another of disappointment mixed with an occasional upside surprise because they have lowballed guidance.
Are they smug? Are they satisfied? Are they clueless? Or are they desperate? Maybe a little bit of all? And you know what they really are? One word: irrelevant.
At the time of publication, Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, had no positions in the stocks mentioned.
Benefits of Boundless Buybacks
Posted at 1:17 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015
Stocks just might be worth more than you think. Sometimes the CEOs know it, other times they don't.
Tim Cook, for example, knows it. He's been borrowing money and buying back Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) shares because he knows the stock is much cheaper than most think. In an era where the average stock sells at about 18 times earnings, it is out and out ridiculous that Apple sells at only 14 times earnings, given its balance sheet, sustainability of earnings, breadth of product and wondrous engineering. I think it's being held back because of skepticism about the actual market capitalization, now well in excess of $700 billion, the first stock ever to hit that level.
I say wait a second. Three years ago, people were skeptical about Apple's market-cap when it crossed the total value of the entire market capitalizations of Spain and Portugal. Then last year the stock drew skepticism when its value exceeded the Russian market's worth. Now I am hearing concerns that its value is well north of Google (GOOGL - Get Report) and Microsoft (MSFT - Get Report) combined. I say these comparisons remind me of what Babe Ruth said to a critic in the press who questioned how was it possible that Ruth, making $80,000 that year, could actually be compensated at a higher level than President Herbert Hoover, who was pulling down $75,000. Ruth told the skeptic, "I had a better year than he did."
It's pretty simple. Tim Cook's having a better year than Microsoft and Google and Russia combined. He's vanquished Samsung, taken huge share in China -- something the critics said Apple couldn't do -- and is about to roll the entire retail industry with Apple Pay. Plus, when they figure out how to get a blood-pressure read from that new watch, you will be able to synch with your cardiologist and head off a potential heart attack. I don't care what you have to pay, that's a cheap watch if it can have that functionality.
The answer to what Apple's stock is worth? I have it: Own it, don't trade it.
But as I said, some execs don't know their companies have far more worth than they think they do. My charitable trust has a very large position in General Motors (GM - Get Report) because we think it is worth $48 a share. Why? First, CEO Mary Barra has done a remarkable job of redoing the product line (come on, you love those Buick ads). Second, maybe it is better to be lucky than good, but she does have the right product line for lower gasoline prices. Third, she got rid of the headline risk for the fatal ignition issue by bringing in the most unassailable legal figure of our time, Ken Feinberg. He's dramatically reduced the worries for the company simply by being fair, and I don't know a soul who thinks otherwise.
What she hasn't done, though, unlike Tim Cook, is maximize all the capital on the balance sheet that she has by buying in a huge amount of stock. Earlier today I questioned the wisdom of being too aggressive with that cash in case there's a big downturn in the economy. I wondered aloud if Harry Wilson, a man widely credited with helping save GM through its massive restructuring, isn't wrongheaded for trying to get on the GM board and expand the buyback in an aggressive way. The simple fact is, though, Wilson does have a point: GM has about $37 billion in liquidity -- mostly cash, some credit -- and it can afford to do a huge tender offer higher than the market price, bring in a monster amount of stock and be incredibly accretive for shareholders like my trust.
I am warming up to this because Wilson doesn't want Barra gone; he simply wants to change the capital structure like Cook did for Apple. Barra should consider this option. It's worked for some of the smartest investors out there, including the great Henry Singleton, my idol in the 1980s, with his amazing value creation via buybacks at Teledyne (TDY - Get Report) . It can work for GM, too. Time to recognize that Cook is Babe Ruth and that Barra should take a bow and buy in stock like a banshee.
At the time of publication, Action Alerts PLUS, which Cramer co-manages as a charitable trust, was long AAPL, GM, GOOGL and MSFT.