General Mills, Inc. Stock Could Be a Nice Play in Choppy Markets

Investors have neglected consumer goods giant General Mills, Inc. (NYSE:GIS) for a long time. But I think it is time to start paying attention to General Mills stock.

This is a defensive name in a consumer goods market with enduring demand. The company has a massive moat, a dirt-cheap valuation, a big dividend and growth prospects that are starting to turn around.

Meanwhile, the rest of the market has growth prospects that are starting to erode.

Over the past several years, hyper-growth tech stocks like Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) and Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) have led the S&P 500 to massive gains.

But this bull market is now 10 years old. And cracks are starting to show up in the foundation supporting the bull thesis. From Facebook’s data breach to Netflix and Amazon’s triple-digit earnings multiples to Google’s big fines, there are certainly reasons to be worried about the longevity of this bull market.

I don’t think the bull market will come to an end anytime soon. I’m largely bullish on the market heading higher, led by those growth giants.

But I also think that we are entering choppy waters. And in choppy waters, low-multiple, defensive stocks with big moats tend to hold up pretty well against prevailing turbulence.

That is why I’m finally interested in GIS stock. Here’s a deeper look.

Why General Mills Stock Is Undervalued

GIS has struggled over the past several years.

Specifically, over the past 5 years, sales have declined by roughly 2-3% per year (assuming sales this year hit consensus estimates of $15.7 billion). A big part of that decline is the fact that GIS is fighting against a secular shift away from mainstream consumer goods and towards niche, organic, healthy consumer goods.

But GIS isn’t sitting idly by and letting competitors chip away at its market share. GIS is adapting its product portfolio to be more natural, healthy and organic. Consequently, sales are starting to turn around.

After back to back years of organic sales declines, GIS has reported positive organic sales growth in back-to-back quarters. Moreover, sales are expected to be flat this year versus a 4% decline last year. Clearly, sales are inflecting upward.

Thus, it looks like the worse of the organic food headwind is in the rear-view mirror. GIS has successfully adapted its product portfolio to be relevant to today’s consumers. As such, revenues should stabilize from here on out.

Sales this year are expected to be $15.7 billion. GIS is expected to complete its acquisition of Blue Buffalo soon, and that should add another $1.3 billion in sales. That brand is also experiencing double-digit sales growth.

Overall, then, GIS should easily be able to pass $17 billion in sales in 5 years ($15.7 billion from current GIS and $1.3 billion from Blue Buffalo).

Meanwhile, margins are getting sliced right now due to higher commodity and supply chain costs. These are big headwinds, but they are short-term in nature. Soon, higher commodity costs will turn into lower commodity costs. On the supply chain front, there is a ton the company can do to offset rising logistics expenses, namely hiking prices on the consumer end.

Longer term, commodity costs will continue to fluctuate while supply chain costs should come down as automation becomes more deeply integrated into the supply chain and reduces running expenses.

Given this outlook, today’s depressed margins aren’t here to stay for the long haul. It is pretty likely that operating margins head back to their 2017 levels of around 17% over the next 5 years.

A 17% margin on $17 billion in sales implies operating profits of just under $2.9 billion in 5 years. Taking out $300 million for interest expense and 21% for taxes, you’re looking at net profits of just over $2 billion. The share count over the next 5 years should continue to come down thanks to buybacks, so that $2 billion in profits will be on presumably 550 million diluted shares. That equates to roughly $3.70 in earnings per share in 5 years.

GIS stock normally trades at 21 times earnings. A 21 multiple on $3.70 implies a 5-year forward price target of about $78, so roughly 12% annualized return from today’s level.

Bottom Line on GIS Stock

GIS stock won’t make you rich overnight. But as the market heads into choppy waters, GIS stock’s cheap valuation, big dividend and strong moat make it an attractive defensive investment.

The stock is also materially undervalued considering growth prospects are turning around.

All in all, I like GIS stock here. I’m a buyer here and lower, all else equal.

As of this writing, Luke Lango was long GIS, FB, AMZN, and GOOG. 

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