Blue Chip Stocks In Focus: Lancaster Colony - Sure Dividend

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Blue Chip Stocks In Focus: Lancaster Colony


Updated on September 28th, 2022 by Nate Parsh

Lancaster Colony (LANC) has a dividend track record that few companies can rival. The company has increased its cash dividend for 59 consecutive years, making it one of just 13 companies in the U.S. with that long of a streak. This puts the company among the elite Dividend Kings, a small group of stocks that have increased their payouts for at least 50 consecutive years.

You can see the full list of all 45 Dividend Kings here.

We have created a full list of all Dividend Kings, along with important financial metrics such as price-to-earnings ratios and dividend yields. You can download your copy of the Dividend Kings sheet (along with financial metrics such as price-to-earnings ratios and dividend yields) by clicking on the link below:

 

Click here to download my Dividend Kings Excel Spreadsheet now. Keep reading this article to learn more.

Dividend Kings are the “best of the best” when it comes to rewarding shareholders with cash and higher dividend payouts each year. This article will discuss Lancaster’s dividend and valuation outlook.

Business Overview

LANC began its operations in 1961 after several small glass and related houseware manufacturing companies combined. The new company almost immediately began rewarding its shareholders with quarterly cash dividends and eventually went public in 1969, the same year it began operations in the food service business with the Marzetti brand acquisition.

The company manufactures and distributes a fairly narrow product assortment split into two major categories: frozen and non-frozen. It makes salad dressings and various dips under the Marzetti brand, frozen breads under the Sister Schubert’s and New York brands, as well as caviar, noodles, croutons, flatbreads and other bread products under a variety of smaller brands.

The Marzetti and New York brands are cash cows for Lancaster, offering its core products of dips and dressings as well as croutons and frozen breads, respectively. Lancaster sells what amounts to accessories for meals and does it very well.

Source: Investor presentation

However, Lancaster also has partnerships with major consumer brands like Olive Garden, Jack Daniel’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, and Weight Watchers (WW), licensing the respective trademarks to produce products for grocery store shelves. A portion of the proceeds of these products goes to the license owners but these agreements are a way for Lancaster to diversify away from its own core brands.

Lancaster’s market cap is just $4.2 billion, and the company is expected to produce about $1.8 billion in revenue this fiscal year. The vast majority of Lancaster’s sales are made in the U.S., so currency risk is not a factor. It sells its products through the retail and food service divisions, offering its frozen and non-frozen products through those channels.

Lancaster has leadership positions in its core brands including New York, Sister Schubert’s, Flat Out (flat breads) and Marzetti, while it is more focused on growth with its smaller brands and acquisitions.

Growth Prospects

Lancaster reported fourth-quarter and full-year earnings on August 25th, 2022, and results were outstanding against expectations. Total net sales were up 17% to a fourth-quarter record of $452 million. Retail net sales were up 8.8% to $233.1 million, while food service revenue soared 28.1% to $219.3 million. 

Consolidated gross profit was up 1.8% to a fourth-quarter record of $98.4 million, driven by strong sales growth and better price realization. These were partially offset by commodity and freight costs, as well as less favorable sales mix. Gross profit was also negatively impacted by restructuring and impairment charges.

Net income was lower by $2.7 million to $29 million, or $1.06 per share, compared to $31.7 million and $1.15 per share, respectively, a year ago.

Lancaster’s earnings growth has been spotty because it is so beholden to volatile restaurant sales. It has, therefore, made many acquisitions in the past in order to not only grow the portfolio, but attempt to make its revenue more predictable.

Source: Investor Presentation

We see 8% average earnings growth annually for the next five years as we see nearly all of that driven by revenue increases. We also note that Lancaster will almost certainly not grow linearly, so some years will show declines while others show sizable increases.

Over time, Lancaster has proven it can grow through a variety of environments, including a pandemic, and we don’t see that as changing anytime soon.

Competitive Advantages & Recession Performance

Lancaster’s competitive advantages are mainly in its distributor partnerships with major sellers like Walmart (WMT) and McLane Distributors, as well as its leadership positions in certain categories like croutons, frozen bread products and dressings.

Lancaster built a niche in these categories over the years and while its heavy reliance upon two distributors for one-third of its revenue is a potential risk, it also means the company’s competitors don’t necessarily have the same access to those large customers. Indeed, we see Lancaster’s exposure to Walmart as a net positive during the pandemic as Walmart experiences surging grocery sales.

Lancaster is in a strong position within its core categories, but that doesn’t make it immune from recessions. Earnings-per-share during and after the Great Recession are below:

Revenue fared pretty well during this period as Lancaster didn’t see any meaningful declines during the period and in fact, revenue was actually higher in 2008 than 2007. However, pricing and cost of goods suffered and as a result, margins declined significantly. This produced the earnings declines Lancaster experienced in 2007 and 2008 but to its credit, the rebound was swift and strong in 2009 and 2010.

Still, Lancaster is far from recession-proof because it sells products to foodservice customers – which suffer mightily during recessions and would thus order less from Lancaster – and consumers that may become cash-strapped during recessions and eschew the food accessories that the company offers. Lancaster, however, has performed extremely well thus far in 2020 despite very challenging conditions. Earnings are expected to surge this year, rather than decline, as would be expected during a typical recession.

Valuation & Expected Returns

We expect Lancaster to produce $5.40 in earnings-per-share this year. Shares trade at 28.7 times this year’s EPS estimate, which is nearly in-line with our fair value estimate of 29 times EPS. We expect that changes in the valuation multiple will not be much of a factor in determining the stock’s future returns.

Therefore, we feel future returns from Lancaster stock will be derived from 8% earnings-per-share growth, the 2.1% dividend yield, and a 0.2% tailwind from multiple expansion, leading to total expected returns of 10.3% per year through 2027.

This is a decent expected rate of return, which qualifies the stock as a hold, but not as a buy at this time. We recommend investors wait for a further pullback before buying shares.

Final Thoughts

Lancaster is certainly not a high-yield income stock, due to its low yield, but it does have an impressive track record of dividend increases. Unfortunately the current yield isn’t high enough to warrant a position simply for the dividend, and the modest EPS growth we expect. We note that Lancaster isn’t as expensively valued as it has been at times in the recent past, but is not undervalued either.

With all of this in mind, we rate this Dividend King a hold right now.

The following articles contain stocks with very long dividend or corporate histories, ripe for selection for dividend growth investors:

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