A Goldman Sachs analyst has downgraded General Mills’ stock to a “sell” rating, saying he expects the Golden Valley-based company to “emerge as a laggard” in the packaged food industry.
“A tide of tailwinds for the food industry has begun to subside,” Jason English wrote in a research report Monday. Meanwhile, General Mills is broadly losing market share and is more likely to “buy growth” through expensive acquisitions, the report said.
English downgraded General Mills from “neutral” to “sell,” the latter an uncommon rating. Aside from English, no analysts have a “sell” rating on General Mills. A plurality has a “hold,” according to NASDAQ’s website, while the consensus recommendation is slightly to the “buy” side.
Revenues at General Mills and other packaged food companies have been under pressure, but English sees Mills as worse off. The company’s important U.S. retail division is “witnessing weakness and share losses across categories,” he wrote. The yogurt business has been particularly hammered.
Deflation in cost inputs – from grain to energy – appear to have been “solely” driving General Mills’ gross profit margin expansion over the past year, English wrote. Yet deflation benefits are waning.
Stagnant sales in the packaged food industry have helped spur consolidation, and speculation has risen over the past nine months that General Mills is a buyout candidate. But English sees that possibility as less likely in the foreseeable future than General Mills itself making significant acquisitions.
Food giants are trolling for high-growth niche players like Annie’s, the natural and organic mac and cheese maker that General Mills bought in late 2014 for $820 million. But such deals tend to be expensive, and English sees them as likely dilutive to Mills earnings and returns.