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We are adding LONG Diageo (DEO) to our Hedgeye Best Ideas list.

In July 2013, newly appointed CEO Ivan Menezes established a new vision for Diageo: “To create one of the best performing, most trusted and respected consumer product companies in the world.”  In our view, Diageo is a strong company that has the brands, margins and returns to achieve this.  However, we believe Mr. Menezes plan and timeline is inadequate.  Diageo is struggling to translate its industry leading position into shareholder value and, as a result, its stock has significantly lagged its consumer product peers.  DEO is up +6.5% over the past year, while its peer group is up +37%.

To get Diageo to the next level as a leading consumer product company, it will likely need to be 1) pushed by an activist or 2) taken out in the global M&A wave. 

We’ve been working on the Diageo story closely for a couple of months now and our timetable for launching on the name has been accelerated by current rumors.  This morning, speculation hit the tape that SABMiller may launch a defensive bid for Diageo in order to fend off Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Our thesis on Diageo is very straightforward – the company’s global beer business is not consistent or aligned with management’s aforementioned vision.  Diageo’s global spirits business is dominant and holds the number one market position in a number of key categories, but its beer business will never see this type of penetration.  We believe the current M&A environment in consumer staples, particularly in global alcohol, represents an ideal environment for Diageo to sell Guinness.  A divestiture of this nature would properly align DEO’s business and allow for a substantially stronger growth profile.

Currently, Diageo’s global beer business, which is primarily the Guinness brand, represented 16.3% of the company’s total volumes in 2013 and has a significant presence in Africa and the emerging markets.  Diageo’s business in these markets was initially jumpstarted by the acquisition of Meta Abo Brewery from the government of Ethiopia in late 2010.  It was therefore a key milestone in the company’s strategy to participate in each of the growth markets of Africa.  As good as the acquisition looked in 2010, the current performance of the beer business in this market is dragging down Diageo’s consolidated results.  Furthermore, beer is roughly 6% in Diageo’s most profitable market, North America, and will never see significant market share or organic growth.

There has recently been speculation that worldwide brewing M&A is poised to accelerate, centered largely on exposure to emerging markets.  Brewing assets in emerging markets (Africa, China and other markets in Southeast Asia) are in high demand as they are likely to offset the slower growing markets in the U.S. and Europe.  With that being said, we believe Diageo’s brewing assets in the emerging markets, particularly Africa, would be a nice addition to the SABMiller portfolio.

We will provide more details on Diageo and our long thesis in the coming weeks.

DEO – The Push to Change - deo

Howard Penney

Managing Director

Matt Hedrick

Associate

Fred Masotta

Analyst