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Takeaway: This might not be a short, but the reasons against buying this stock stack up very quickly the way we see it.

Conclusion: This stock had so much going its way over the past year to enhance its multiple. While we can't point to any specific catalysts that would make the stock go down, we think that nearly every multiple-enhancer is in the final stretch. We can think of very few reasons to own this stock today. 

 

DETAILS 

We think HBI is a ‘do nothing’ stock here (and that's being generous). Yes, we give the company a golf clap for taking up EBIT by 8x vs last year despite a decline in its top line, and by doing more to de-risk its balance sheet than most companies we’ve seen in a while.

But on the flip side, we simply have a tough time getting too excited about most parts of this story. Management keeps touting this company as a Consumer Staple. Sorry to say, but Staples a) usually don’t have sales down 2.8% in a given quarter, b) find a way to grow International sales at a rate greater than the US core (they were down 5% in dollars and +1% in local currency), and c) don’t face a +740bp change in gross margins due to a (favorable) swing in commodity prices.

We’re not trying to be punitive in our description of this company, but as it relates to valuing the stock, we can’t call it a Staple. Is 14-15x earnings and 9x EBITDA an egregious multiple for a company like this? As long as the current earnings trajectory sustains itself we think it’s fair – and we think that guidance for this year is probably doable. That's the sole factor that prevents us from shorting it.

But we can’t argue for multiple expansion for the following reasons.

a)      Sales were down 2.8% in 1Q, and to hit the company’s guidance we need to see sales growth accelerate to a low-single digit rate throughout the remainder of the year. A couple of points in growth is hardly heroic, and sales have picked up in recent weeks – as such we have no reason to think they’ll miss. But banking on a sales acceleration and multiple acceleration is not where we want to be.

b)      Same goes for the gross margin. There was 840bp improvement in 1Q – and only 100bp was driven by the company’s own ‘innovate to elevate’ initiative. The other 740bp was sheer commodity cost recovery. Those benefits are completely recovered within the next two quarters. Then we’re back to a gross margin that is 100% based on company pricing, innovation and efficiency initiatives. Again, we’ll be more generous with multiple expansion when we’re just entering the positive side of a potential gross margin recovery. Here, we’re nearing the end.

c)       Similarly, SG&A is up by $30-$40mm this year due to higher media spend – which alone accounts for about 3-4% growth in aggregate SG&A. That’s a big number for a company that considers it a victory when it grows its top line by 3%. Don’t get us wrong, we usually like when companies invest in their brands – it’s one of the more ‘Staple-like’ things that HBI is doing. It’s also one of the things that gives us a bit of confidence that we probably see sales tick up a couple of percent in the back half. But unfortunately, spend comes first and revenue comes second. It’s how the world works. And that reality rarely enhances multiples.

d)      Lastly, we have yet to meet a single HBI owner who has not had ‘delevering the balance sheet and improved use of cash’ as one of the top two reasons for owning the stock.  HBI has a) paid down 30% of its debt over the past year, b) just initiated a dividend, and c) has set expectations for the added pay-down of its $250mm 8% (expensive) senior notes in 4Q13. Our point here is that anticipation of all of this has helped the multiple, but it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see anything related to the balance sheet that get people incrementally more positive over the next year.

So…the punchline is that we can’t necessarily point to a catalyst to make this stock go down. But we think that valuation is relatively full, we need to bank on sales accelerating while commodity benefits are waning and media spend is headed higher, and there are no more positive surprises related to the balance sheet to sweeten the deal. Short interest has been lower only once – back in May of 2010 – but the difference is that today, there’s absolutely no shortage of insider sales.

It’s tough for us to find reasons to buy this stock today.

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