An activist might be tempted to target Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) and push it to auction itself following a year of underperformance and concerns around its $4.87 billion acquisition Monday of snackmaker Snyder's-Lance Inc. (LNCE)
However, an insurgent investor would face a huge obstacle in the form of a 42% stake controlled by the family of one-time president and owner John Dorrance.
"Any activists would be challenged given the [insider] share ownership," said Erin Lash, an analyst at Morningstar.
A critical issue is the significant stake controlled by insiders, in particular, the Dorrance family, who are decedents of the one-time company president and owner John T Dorrance. Lash noted that Dorrance invented the formula to convert wet soup into condensed soup, which was a key factor driving the success of the firm's namesake product.
Dorrance's grandchildren, Mary Alice Dorrance Malone and Bennett Dorrance, together control about a 33% stake, according to FactSet. Insiders overall collectively own a 42.2% Campbell stake, making it nearly impossible for any activist to succeed at agitating for M&A or other share-price improving changes at the company because their director candidates would almost certainly lose without the backing of the Dorrance family.
Nevertheless, there are reasons why an activist investor would think about targeting Campbell's. Look what has happened under the more than six-year tenure of CEO Denise Morrison. Since Morrison was appointed CEO on Aug. 1, 2011, shares have gained 53% vs. a 137% gain for the S&P 500.
Campbell Soup sales have fallen for three straight years, according to Bloomberg data, despite several significant acquisitions in Plum Organics and Bolthouse Farms. Return on invested capital (ROIC) has gone from 19.64% in the fiscal year ended July 31, 2011, to 12.67% in the fiscal year ended July 30, 2017, Bloomberg said.
Also, the market doesn't appear too enthused with Campbell's latest acquisition, its purchase of Snyder's-Lance, with the stock trading Tuesday at around $49 a share, slightly below its share price before the blockbuster acquisition announcement.
Nevertheless, some observers believe that Campbell's acquisition of the pretzel maker was a good deal for the soup maker. Lash said she believed the deal would help. "We thought it was a very strategic deal because it further diversified the mix beyond the soup category, giving Campbell greater exposure to snack foods," Lash said.
TheStreet's founder, Jim Cramer, suggested on Monday that Campbell has transformed itself from a soup company with a bunch of disparate products in the supermarket to a snack food company in a world where "snacking's becoming an international pastime."
He added that even though many people have recommended Campbell as a takeover target "this move makes the stock worth buying as an earnings story."
More of What's Trending on TheStreet: