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Bucking the China Odds: Mead Johnson Nutrition CO (MJN)

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Financial analysts’ opinions may be divided on the fortunes of Mead Johnson Nutrition CO (NYSE: MJN), with the company getting an upgrade to buy on momentum, while at the same time receiving a downgrade of the stock to neutral post rally. Nevertheless, it would be an astute move to have Mead Johnson in your portfolio. And here are some of the reasons why:

Agility in Adapting To Changing Market Conditions

Mead Johnson has shown how agile it is to adapt to a changing market environment in China. During the first half of 2012, price increases in its products, coupled with the aggressive competitor promotions took its toll on the company’s Chinese market share. Mead Johnson, however, recovered whatever ground it has lost in China in last year’s second half, a development which contributed to the company achieving better-than-expected results for the 2012 fourth quarter and for the full year.

Mead Johnson Nutrition CO (NYSE:MJN)Notably, China, with about 12 million births annually, is among the world’s largest markets for infant formula and baby food, accounting for about 23 percent of the estimated $41 billion global market. Despite its first half debacle, Mead Johnson sales in China and Hong Kong rose 5% to reach nearly$1.2bn in 2012, the company said.

Overall, the company reported a 6 percent increase in net sales for the year to $3.9 billion from the $3.6 billion posted in 2011. Combined sales of the company’s Asian and Latin American operations rose by 12 percent to partially recoup the 3 percent decline in Mead Johnson sale in North America and Europe. The company’s 2012 fourth quarter net earnings amounted to $134.2 million, or 66 cents per share, up from the $85.6 million, or 42 cents per share, achieved a year earlier. Shares of Mead Johnson jumped 11.5 percent following the announcement of these surprising sales and earnings results.

The president and chief executive officer of Mead Johnson, Stephen Golsby, discounted the aggressive promotions of its competitors in China. Golsby maintained that Mead Johnson prefers to build brand value rather than drive sales volumes via product promotions. He added that the company’s priorities in equity building and advertising activities are the things that will drive Mead Johnson’s future growth in China.

Growth Drivers in Latin America and the Rest of Asia

Mead Johnson’s management is also confident that the company’s Latin American operations will continue contributing a significant share to the company’s earnings during 2012. Noting that South America delivered the strongest growth among Mead Johnson’s regions in 2012, the company’s management said it believes that their Latin American revenue is “on track” to hit $1 billion by 2015.

The emerging markets in South America, as well as in Asia-Pacific, constitute a main arena for manufacturers of infant formula and baby food. In the twelve largest countries in these regions, it was estimated that the birth rates surpass the US pace by an average of 37.7 percent. This factor, along with rising urbanization and a growing middle class, indicates further growth in sales of infant formula in these emerging market areas.

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