The warning by Hain Celestial Group (HAIN - Get Report) that it would delay the reporting of its fiscal 2016 results takes away the one reason that investors might have had to buy the stock, and likely keeps anybody with some cognitive functionality from buying shares even at a steep discount to where it was trading.
Shares of Hain Celestial plunged nearly 30% Tuesday, sending the stock skidding below $40 a share, and wiping out the gains those shares banked in 2016, as investors reacted to the surprising announcement of accounting concerns.
Hain, like a number of merchants of "good for you" branded products, had rallied this year amid consolidation in the branded packaged goods market, a move that only accelerated recently with the news that Danone would acquire WhiteWave Foods (WWAV , a move that echoed the purchase two years ago of Annie's by General Mills (GIS - Get Report) . Anybody anxious to play the "who gets rolled up next?" game was willing to ignore some of the fundamental hiccups that have beleaguered Hain, such as management departures and relatively poor execution on some of its operating businesses, just to get a bite of the premium that a potential acquirer would have to hand out.
No longer. Can you think of an operator in the branded products sector that dares make a preemptive strike on Hain Celestial now that management has admitted to accounting gaffs? Sure, it's cheap - or cheaper, at least - at less than 20 times P/E. But what management is going to buy what amounts to a pig in the proverbial poke until it's got complete credibility on Hain's financials?
At this juncture, any buyout opportunity is going to have to wait on the resolution of the accounting problems at the natural foods maker. And given that Hain itself hasn't provided any kind of timetable for a complete rendering of the issues, the timeline for this remains suspect.
Hain said in its announcement late Monday that it needed to determine whether it recorded revenues for products it shipped to distributors in the appropriate time frame. The most charitable interpretation of the admission is that sales were inappropriately clocked when it dispatched the products to those distributors, rather than waiting until distributors shipped those products to end markets. It's not that the sales wouldn't take place; it was simply a matter of saying, "Should this be a second quarter or a third quarter event?"
The issues raised by the delay in reporting 2016 results probably hurts management credibility more than it does the actual balance sheet. But if you're one of the mega branded products purveyors that's talked up as a potential consolidator in this sector--how do you face your own shareholders and pledge allegiance that you got the best deal imaginable under these circumstances?
Hain's accounting review, analysts are saying, could trim as little as $25 million off what it ultimately ends up reporting for 2016 sales. That might only end up being a 5 cent discount to what's seen as fiscal 2016 earnings of $2 to $2.04 a share in EPS.
But what if it turns out to be something more on the order of $75 million? And, granted, those sales could be just pushed out to fiscal 2017 instead of being booked for this fiscal year. But, again, how do you value the asset if you don't know the impact of the revisions?
Investors who weren't able to crash the exits when the accounting lapse emerged late Monday might do well just to hold their positions. But new investors looking at Hain Celestial might do better to hold off until the extent of internal control deficiencies are thoroughly sussed out.