Is Further Consumer Staples Consolidation Coming?: Campbell Soup Company (CPB) and More

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Warren Buffett has done it again.  His Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.B) has, in his terms, ‘bagged another elephant’.  In February, it was revealed that Berkshire and a Brazilian private equity firm would be purchasing H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE:HNZ) in a deal worth $23 billion.  Investors may be wondering if this signals a turnaround for mergers and acquisitions.  In a recent segment on CNBC, Jim Cramer claimed that we are now in a state of ‘merger mania’, and that the corporate confidence needed to revitalize the M&A market is back.  Is he right?  And, if so, are there other stocks within the consumer staples sector ripe for the plucking?

Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB)Corporate cash sitting idle

Thanks to the Federal Reserve’s extremely easy monetary policy, interest rates are at historic lows.  The economic recovery in the United States continues to trudge along at a painfully slow pace.  As a result of the Great Recession, companies cut workforces to the bone and are still only hiring at a selective pace.

Consequently, profits sit on the balance sheets of corporate America and provide little in return.  It’s been well-publicized that companies in the United States are sitting on a trillion dollars of cash that is earning them almost nothing.  Therefore, the best use of cash to provide shareholders return seems to be returning it in the form of dividends and share buybacks, and in the case of slow-moving conglomerates like Berkshire Hathaway, making big acquisitions.

Heinz represents a lot of what Warren Buffett has publicly said he favors for Berkshire’s investments.  The company provides its namesake ketchup and other food brands; Heinz’s products could likely be found in virtually every household in America.  The company pumps out reliable cash flows and an ever-increasing stream of dividends.  It’s a powerful brand name with a long history of success.  At the same time, it isn’t the only one to have these qualities within the consumer staples sector.  Here are two candidates that share many of these characteristics and may be attractive to not just Berkshire Hathaway, but also one of the consumer staples giants.

Two possible candidates

Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB) rallied since the Heinz takeover announcement, and its shares now sit at five-year highs.  The maker of its namesake soups, as well as Prego pasta sauce and Pepperidge Farm cookies, holds a $12 billion market capitalization and could be well-positioned for a takeover, considering its remarkable consistency and operating history of more than 140 years.

A plausible alternative could be Hormel Foods Corporation (NYSE:HRL).  Hormel could be a nice bolt-on acquisition, as the company holds a market capitalization of only $9 billion and a portfolio of well-established brands. Hormel was founded in 1891, and has since sold its flagship Spam and Hormel Chili to consumers. However, the company has broadened its product portfolio over the years. Hormel has achieved strong annual earnings per share growth of 11% annually since 2007, and annual sales growth of 6% over the same period.

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