We have been raking in huge profits in all our cyclical and aggressive plays since we called the turnaround in Brazil last October 27: Petroleo Brasileiro (NYSE: PBR) — known as Petrobras – Vale (NYSE: VALE), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), BHP Billiton Ltd. (NYSE: BHP), Research in Motion Ltd. (Nasdaq: RIMM), IBM (NYSE: IBM), Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN), Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. (NYSE: DO), and Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN) have all done splendid. And over the longer term, all of these companies are going to continue delivering, with some obvious profit-taking bouts along the way.
One of such profit-taking episode could be starting right now. And it could be driven by Standard & Poor’s recent downgrade of United Kingdom’s sovereign debt rating. This was in turn followed by the comments coming out from PIMCO that suggest the United States’ debt rating could be in jeopardy. Even though S&P minimized that possibility, when Bill Gross speaks, the bond markets listen.
At this point, it is good to look for the defensive plays that have been neglected in this upturn and for safe havens for investors taking profits from the recent run. After looking long and hard, I came to General Mills Inc. (NYSE: GIS).
General Mills met earnings expectations in March and raised its earnings outlook. It has been benefiting from the drop in commodities prices, especially agricultural. In addition, the firm, like many in the consumer business, has suffered from a strong U.S. Dollar, which reduced the value of the profits abroad. The nice thing about consumer staples is that, since people have to eat in good and bad times, these companies are not cyclicals, but rather suffer very little in downturns.
That has been the case for General Mills, which in the last report showed a 4% sales increase from the same quarter in the prior year. And this sales increase was achieved despite a 6% drop in the sales of food service and bakery products, where the firm nonetheless managed to increase pricing. But this sector is being de-emphasized with some divestment.
Just think about the solid brands that allow General Mills to dependably keep chugging along every quarter, increasing sales as the population grows. General Mills also boasts well established and new brands that keep increasing its market penetration around the world. Since then, the dollar has corrected in value and the commodities prices have dropped. That will show up in next month’s earnings report and the stock should perform nicely.
The company is dominant with its Pillsbury brand, which has more than two-thirds of the market. Cheerios, which has come under some scrutiny for health claims by the FDA, is the top cereal franchise in the ready-to-eat segment. In addition, we are going to see hundreds of new products being launched soon.
The global story is only beginning for this company, even though they are already in China, and many other fast-growing emerging markets. This international presence, which right now accounts for only 20% of the company’s total sales, is likely to grow much faster in the near future. This will be achieved with joint ventures and by leveraging the brands that have the highest international penetration, like Nature valley and Haagen Dazs.
The stock is trading with a price-earnings ratio of only 16 times and an attractive dividend yield of 3.3%. But looking at the company’s growth, it is trading at only 13 times future earnings. This is a low-risk proposition, as both the company earnings and the dividend appear to be very safe. In addition, the stock has a small short ratio that should diminish if we see profit-taking in the cyclical.
Last but not least, in addition to the short-term technical turning bullish at the end of April, as the stock crossed its 13-day and 50-day exponential averages to the upside, the long-term technicals have also turned bullish and the stock is still way oversold.
Recommendation: Buy General Mills Inc. (GIS) at the market and accumulate more if you see weakness (**).
(**) – Special Note of Disclosure: Horacio Marquez holds no interest General Mills Inc.
[Editor's Note: Veteran Wall Streeter Horacio Marquez is the author of Money Morning's hugely popular "Buy, Sell or Hold" series, and is also the editor of the longstanding "Money Moves Alert" trading service.
In a new free report, Marquez has identified a category of stocks he has labeled "rocket stocks," which display key characteristics hinting that they're ready to move. One such characteristic: Heavy insider buying. In fact, one particular sector right now is seeing especially heavy insider buying – and many investors will be surprised to discover just what sector it is, and what companies top executives are buying into. For a free report that details these "rocket stock" plays, and that outlines this torrent of insider buying, please click here.]
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