Nestle SA's (NSRGY) new leadership has already given long suffering shareholders cause for hope. But with expectation comes pressure and new CEO Ulf Mark Schneider must deliver substance to support that hope when he fronts his first shareholder conference later this month.
"We believe [the seminar] should provide further evidence of the company's desire to drive shareholder returns via self-help," Goldman Sachs noted in a report published this week that re-iterated Nestle's buy rating with a price target of Sfr94.
Nestle shares traded Thursday, Sept. 7, at Sfr80.60, suggesting an almost 17% upside based on Goldman Sach's prediction. The stock has gained almost 10% since Schneider took control on Jan. 1.
The German, who left healthcare company Fresenius to take Nestle's top job, has already made some big moves. In February, he dropped Nestle's commitment to 5% to 6% organic growth, giving himself space to engineer a turn around. In July, he laid out plans for a Sfr20 billion share buyback and said he will reroute capital spending to focus on "high-growth food and beverage categories such as coffee, petcare, infant nutrition and bottled water."
So far so good, but investors will expect that strategy to be fleshed out, at the very least with earnings and sales targets, when Schneider takes the podium on Sept. 26.
An earnings per share target of 8% by 2020, in-line with the food and beverage sector average, would be a welcome marker, according to Goldman Sachs, which noted that consensus currently expects Nestle to deliver a feeble 4% by 2020.
Doubling EPS in just over two years is ambitious but is well within Nestle's grasp given the levers that Schneider can pull and the growing pressure he is under to be bold. In July, Nestle found itself the focus of Third Point LLC, led by activist investor Dan Loeb, which notched up a 1.3% stake and began agitating for change.
A Sept. 26 update on the sale Nestle's U.S. confectionery business, which was put on the block on June 15 and could fetch $1 billion to $2 billion, would be positive. Hints of a more ambitious disposals program would be better still.
Nestle's sluggish frozen foods business, which accounts for 7% of sales, was notably absent from July's list of capital spending priorities and should be under review, according to Kepler Cheuvreux analyst Jon Cox. A 23% stake in L'Oreal, which Third Point wants Nestle to offload, is worth about $27.3 billion at current market prices. Add Nestle's weak cereals business to that and the company could excite shareholders with the promise of raising close to $70 billion.
On the flip side of that equation Nestle might also drop hints on acquisitions. Even without raising new cash from sales, the company could spend as much as $110 billion on a deal and still not push debt beyond 5 times earnings - in line with the upper reaches of its European rivals. That puts almost all of its competitors within its sites, including Danone SA (DANOY) , which has a market cap of just under $45 million.
"We believe a takeover/merger with Danone could make sense as a way to build a European champion large enough to withstand potential takeover by ... Kraft (Heinz Co). (KHC - Get Report) ," noted Kepler's Cox.
A major M&A announcement on Sept. 26 remains a long shot. More likely, and perhaps just as welcome, would be detail on Nestle's plan to cut costs and boost margins - which have stalled since 2011 at just over 15.5%, leaving nestle about 500 basis points behind its sharpest competitors.
"The most material source of upside for Nestle is cost savings," noted Goldman Sachs, which believes that Schneider could lift margins by between 136 basis points and 575 basis points. "We hope the company will give further color on its efficiency programs at the investor seminar and we believe a hard margin target - rather than a cost savings ambition with or without a flow through rate - would be well received."
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