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Value Investor
Wealth Building Opportunites for the Active Value Investor

November 25, 2020

Stocks showing strength and breadth like we haven’t seen in a long time, particularly with the broad market at a record high. Despite flattish returns from the formerly high-flying mega-cap tech stocks, the broad stock market is no longer grinding higher, it is surging higher, lifting the S&P 500 index to a month-to-date gain of 8.8% through Monday.


Borrowing a phrase commonly used on Twitter: “OMG!”

Stocks showing strength and breadth like we haven’t seen in a long time, particularly with the broad market at a record high. Despite flattish returns from the formerly high-flying mega-cap tech stocks, the broad stock market is no longer grinding higher, it is surging higher, lifting the S&P 500 index to a month-to-date gain of 8.8% through Monday.

Stocks currently on the Cabot Undervalued Stocks Advisor recommended list (both Buys and Holds and adjusting for recent trades) have gained an average of 13.8% month-to-date. Stocks that the market had given up on, including General Motors (+25%), Dow (+20%) and Molson Coors (+24%), reflect the sharp improvement in sentiment toward undervalued stocks. We have no idea how enduring the market’s new outlook is, and what might send it back into a foul mood (inevitably, markets are volatile), we’re thrilled to see it and fully participate.

No doubt, the change has much to do with the cascade of Covid vaccine announcements. We don’t know (neither does most anyone else) which vaccine will be the most effective or when it will be available. But, the behind-the-scenes, aggressive and stunningly fast research work by thousands of scientists around the world appears to indicate that the mysteries of this coronavirus are being uncovered.

And, not only will this effort lead to a vaccine, it has also probably accelerated our collective understanding of all of human biology by 20 years. We anticipate talk of a “Covid dividend” in future years, when knowledge learned about the Covid is applied to treat a wide range of other illnesses.

Two other likely drivers of the market’s newfound enthusiasm: more states are certifying the election results which brings closer the end of the election uncertainties, and the nomination of market-friendly Janet Yellen for Treasury Secretary.

While 2020 has been described as a once-in-a-century spectacle de merde, encompassing health, travel, politics, injustice, safety, economics, markets – basically all facets of human endeavors – the future is starting to look just a little bit brighter.

With the improving outlook, we believe consumers will start traveling by airplane again. The airlines have put in place some impressive safety protocols such that air travel is lower-risk than many other activities. And, with the holidays approaching and sizeable pent-up demand after half a year of restrictions, the leisure traveler is probably ready to go. We are recommending the low-cost carrier JetBlue (JBLU) as an appealing beneficiary of this re-awakening of air travel. Read more about this company in our note below.

Share prices in the table reflect Tuesday (November 24) closing prices. Please note that prices in the discussion below are based on mid-day November 24 prices.

Note to new subscribers: You can find additional color on recent earnings and other news on recommended companies in prior editions of the Cabot Undervalued Stocks Advisor on the Cabot website.

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December 10: Broadcom (AVGO)

JetBlue Airways (JBLU) – new Buy
General Motors (GM) – raised price target from 45 to 49.

Cisco Systems (CSCO) – new Buy
General Motors (GM) – from Buy to Hold
Universal Electronics (UEIC) – from Hold to Sell
Marathon Petroleum (MPC) – from Buy to Sell.


Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY) is a New York-based global biopharmaceutical company. In November 2019, the company acquired Celgene for a total value of $80.3 billion, including $35.7 billion in cash and $40.4 billion in stock. We are looking for Bristol-Myers to return to overall revenue growth, both from resilience in their key franchises (Opdivo, Revlimid, and Eliquis) and from new products currently in their pipeline. We also want to see the company execute on its $2.5 billion cost-cutting program. We see most of these initiatives remaining intact with the MyoKardia acquisition.

Like most biopharma companies, Bristol frequently issues news releases regarding its various treatments. Unless they meaningfully either strengthen or weaken our view on the company, we likely won’t comment on them here.

There was no meaningful news on the company this past week.

BMY shares fell 2% in the past week. The shares have about 24% upside to our 78 price target.

The stock trades at a low 8.4x estimated 2021 earnings of $7.47 (flat from last week). The 2.9% dividend yield is well covered by the company’s enormous $13.5 billion in free cash flow likely this year. BUY.

Broadcom, Inc. (AVGO) designs, develops, and markets semiconductors (about 72% of revenues) that facilitate wireless communications. The company’s foundation is its #1 industry position in high performance RFIC (radio frequency integrated circuits), whose use in high-end smartphones has driven Broadcom’s growth and profits. About 25% of total revenues come from chips that go into high-end smartphones, with Apple providing about 20% of Broadcom’s total revenues. The company also provides software that runs technology infrastructure including telecom and corporate networks (about 28% of total revenue).

We don’t expect a 5G “supercycle,” but healthy new iPhone purchases, helped by strong wireless telecom carrier support, will be supportive for Broadcom.

There was no meaningful news on the company this past week.

AVGO shares rose 2% in the past week and have about 5% upside to our 410 price target.

The shares trade at 15.5x estimated FY2021 earnings of $25.21. The estimate is unchanged in the past week. The shares pay a 3.3% dividend yield. HOLD.

Cisco Systems (CSCO) is a $48 billion (revenues) technology equipment and services company. About 72% of revenues are from equipment sales. Its Infrastructure Platforms segment produces routers, switches, and other gear that connect and manage corporate, government, telecom, and other data and communications networks. The Applications segment offers a range of software and related services with a growing emphasis on cloud migration. The Security segment provides a full suite of network, email and cloud software and services to control access and minimize external threats. Cisco leverages its one-stop-shop breadth of products, software, and services to provide customized packages that match each customer’s needs.

Founded in 1984, Cisco emerged as a dominant provider of internet gear, becoming one of the Silicon Valley tech darlings during the late 1990s dot-com bubble. However, due to its then-extreme overvaluation, as well as stagnant revenue growth (essentially zero growth in the past eight years), Cisco’s share price is now only about half its March 2000 peak. In recent years, the company’s core business has struggled against the rising adoption of cloud computing, which reduces the need for Cisco’s gear. CSCO shares remain down 12% year-to-date and down 25% from their recent high in mid-2019.

Cisco’s prospects are starting to improve, with changes that started at the top. In 2015, the company promoted veteran Chuck Robbins into the CEO role, starting a slow but steady process to reinvigorate its operations. A new CFO, Scott Herren, who previously helped lead a rebuilding of Autodesk in ways very similar to what Cisco is doing, will start in December.

Cisco is accelerating its efforts to remain relevant and increase its value. To provide more recurring revenues and reduce its dependence on one-time equipment sales, Cisco is shifting its business mix to a software and subscription model. Progress is encouraging, with 78% of software now sold on a subscription basis, compared to 71% only a year ago. Software sales are a source of growth (albeit slow) and now comprise 28% of total revenues.

A critical source of stability is Cisco’s strong reputation and its entrenched position within its customers’ infrastructure. As long as it can stay close enough to competitors’ offerings, the company should retain these valuable intangible assets.
The company has ramped up its cloud-based offerings after lagging in this critical category. Also, its Webex video conferencing (like Zoom, only more secure, robust, and innovative) has 600 million participants in the most recent quarter, nearly twice the March level. Overall, the cadence of new products and services across the board appears to be accelerating under Robbins’s leadership.

Financially, Cisco is highly profitable. Its adjusted gross margin is wide, at about 65%, and its net profit margin at nearly 27% is impressive. The company produced $15.4 billion in cash flow from operations last year (fiscal year ended in July) and will likely repeat that rate in the current year. This strength supports share buybacks and a generous dividend that yields 3.4%.

Its balance sheet carries $30 billion in cash, double the $14.6 billion in total debt. This cash hoard may be utilized to make acquisitions or to accelerate its share repurchase program. In per-share terms, the excess cash of about $3.55/share is equal to over 8% of Cisco’s market capitalization.

Cisco clearly has its challenges. While second quarter guidance points to a 1% revenue decline, revenues fell 9% in the most recently completed first quarter. Cisco has a lot of work to do to convince investors that it can successfully navigate the secular changes in technology gear demand, along with overcoming near-term signing delays due to the pandemic.

The generous dividend yield and fortress balance sheet provide considerable valuation support. As the market recognizes the company’s improving transition, we believe the shares should trade at our 55 price target.

There was no meaningful news on the company this past week.

CSCO shares rose 1% in the past week and have about 30% upside to our 55 price target. The shares trade at a low 13.4x estimated FY2021 earnings of $3.15, and at 9.1x EV/EBITDA. BUY.

Coca-Cola (KO) is one of the world’s largest beverage companies. While it is best-known for its iconic soft drinks, the company has a strong portfolio of non-soda brands, including PowerAde, Fuze Tea, Glaceau, Dasani, Minute Maid and Schweppes. Nearly 40% of its revenues now come from non-soda products across the non-alcoholic spectrum, including juice/dairy/plant beverages, water/hydration drinks, tea and coffee, and energy drinks.

Its global distribution system of 30 million customer outlets offers it the capability of reaching essentially every human on the planet. This allows it access to growing emerging countries where its market share has considerable potential to expand.

Relatively new CEO James Quincey, who took the helm in 2017, is a highly regarded company veteran with a track record of producing profit growth and making successful acquisitions. The $5 billion acquisition of Costa Coffee in January 2019, while perhaps ill-timed only a year in front of the pandemic, still offers considerable potential. It added nearly 3,900 coffee shops throughout Europe, China, India, and the Middle East, giving Coca-Cola a valuable entre into coffee as well as a new channel to expand its distribution.

To improve its global operations, Coca-Cola is reorganizing to become more effective and more efficient. The former 17 business units are being concentrated into nine operating units, with a stronger emphasis on building the connections between these units. Product category teams will focus on improving marketing as well as introducing new and innovative beverages. Innovation efforts will be more clearly driven by their ability to either significantly increase the number of new drinkers, their frequency of consumption, or the value (profit) per consumption. The company is also culling its vast portfolio of over 400 brands by 50% to focus on its highest-priority offerings.

To capture more of the value of Coca-Cola’s vast global scale, back-office administrative services are being centralized and standardized across the system. A sizeable round of staffing reductions (about 4,000) should lead directly to lower costs, as well.

All of these changes should accelerate the number and success rate of new products while expanding the overall profits of the company.

While Coca-Cola has much more ground to cover to improve its image (and reality) of selling sugar-intensive beverages that are packaged in environmentally insensitive plastic, the company is accelerating its efforts. Eighteen of its top 20 brands, including Coke Zero, are now either low/no sugar or offer a low/no sugar option with 29% of its total volume now in low/no sugar beverages. The company’s packaging has risen from only 3% recyclable to 88% recyclable, with many additional programs in place to further improve.

Coca-Cola has a sturdy balance sheet, with its $53 billion in debt well-covered by cash flow and partly offset by over $21 billion in cash/equivalents. Its $0.41/share quarterly dividend is also well-covered by solid free cash flow, and the company is committed to growing this dividend. It is targeting a 75% payout (of free cash flow) over time. The dividend yield is currently a respectable 3.1%.

Recent results point to a recovery from pandemic-depressed volumes. While second quarter global volumes fell 16%, and revenues fell 28%, third quarter volumes fell only 4% while revenues were only 9% below the prior year. Third quarter revenues and profits were higher than consensus estimates, suggesting that investors don’t fully appreciate the strength of the company’s fundamentals.

Impressively, Coca-Cola’s comparable operating profit margin increased to 30.4% from 28.1% a year ago, despite lower revenues. When the higher-margin away-from-home business returns when restaurants, stadiums, and other venues re-open, the company’s margins could expand further. Comparable earnings per share fell only 2% compared to a year ago.

While near-term outlook is clouded by pandemic-related stay-at-home restrictions, the secular trend away from sugary sodas, high exposure to foreign currencies, and always-aggressive competition, the longer-term picture looks bright.

A U.S. tax court ruled that Coca-Cola assigned too much profit to its lower-tax overseas operations, in a case brought by the IRS that seeks up to $3.3 billion in additional tax payments for the tax years of 2007-2009. The actual payment amount has yet to be determined, and it is unclear if payments will be due for more recent tax years. With 4.3 billion shares outstanding, the hit to Coca-Cola would be about $0.83/share. We estimate that the total tax penalty for all years would likely be no more than $4 billion.

KO shares slipped 1% in the past week. The stock has about 20% upside to our 64 price target. While the valuation is not statistically cheap, at 25.3x 2021 estimated earnings of $1.89 and 23.0x estimated 2021 earnings of $2.11, they are undervalued while also offering an attractive 3.1% dividend yield. BUY.

Dow Inc. (DOW) is a commodity chemicals company with manufacturing facilities in 31 countries. In 2017, Dow merged with DuPont to temporarily create DowDuPont, then split into three parts in 2019 based on the newly combined product lines. Today, Dow is the world’s largest producer of ethylene/polyethylene, which are the world’s most widely used plastics. Dow is primarily a cash-flow story driven by three forces: 1) petrochemical prices, which are often correlated with oil prices and global growth, along with competitors’ production volumes; 2) volume of chemicals sold, largely driven by global economic conditions, and 3) ongoing efficiency improvements (a never-ending quest for all commodity companies to maintain their margins).

Dow’s third quarter earnings report was encouraging: per share earnings fell 45% but well-ahead of the consensus estimate. Operating EBITDA, a scrubbed measure of cash operating profits excluding the various charges and gains, fell 20% from a year ago, largely due to the weaker sales but partly offset by cost-cutting. Management commented that demand in China is basically back to pre-Covid levels and provided an encouraging overall outlook.

Dow is making progress with its strategic goals. Free cash flow was healthy and, along with proceeds from asset sales, has allowed Dow to reduce its debt net of cash by 12%. This is fairly impressive given everything that has happened this year.

There was essentially no news on Dow in the past week.

Dow shares rose about 5% this past week and have about 5% upside to our 60 price target.

The shares trade at 18.1x estimated 2022 earnings of $3.16, although this is two years away. This estimate was unchanged this past week.

Valuation on estimated 2020 earnings of $1.40 is less meaningful as this assumes no recovery.

The high 4.9% dividend yield is particularly appealing for income-oriented investors. Dow is currently more than covering its dividend, and management makes a convincing case that it will be sustained. However, there is a small risk of a cut if the economic and commodity recoveries unravel. HOLD.

MKS Instruments (MKSI) generates about 49% of its revenues from producing critical components that become part of equipment used to make semiconductors. MKS’s products are generally in the stronger segments of this currently healthy market.

Earlier this month, we moved MKS Instruments (MKSI) to Sell, as the shares touched our 130 price target. We don’t see any imminent problems with MKS, particularly given their favorable earnings report last week. However, we see little justification for raising our price target.

MKSI shares produced a 13% price return since our new coverage began on June 30. SELL.

Total S.A. (TOT), based in France, is among the world’s largest integrated energy companies. We recently moved the shares to a Sell. The stock surged nearly 16% on the Pfizer Covid vaccine news, approaching our 43 price target. Total is doing many things right, but is also heavily exposed to commodity oil prices. The dividend is very appealing, but perhaps half of it (we think if they needed to cut it, they would cut it in half, not fully suspend it) is at risk should oil prices stay below $40 (Brent). At the sell date, Brent oil prices were about $43.50 – not much margin for error.

The shares produced a sizeable 40% loss since the initial recommendation in September 2018. While possible, we don’t see the shares having a high-enough chance of returning to the 60 price range in the foreseeable future to merit a continued Hold rating. Since our new coverage began on June 30, the shares have produced a flat total return. SELL.

Tyson Foods (TSN) is one of the world’s largest food companies, with over $42 billion in revenues last year. Beef products generate about 36% of total revenues, while chicken (31%), pork (10%), and prepared/other contribute the remaining revenues. It has the #1 domestic position in beef and chicken with roughly 21% market share in each. Its well-known brands include Tyson, Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farms, Ball Park, Wright and Aidells. As only 13% of its sales come from outside the United States, Tyson’s long-term growth strategy is to participate in the growing global demand for protein. The company has more work to do to convince investors that the future is brighter, particularly as it is more of a commodity company (and hence has lower margins) compared to its food processor peers.

Tyson reported good fourth quarter results on Monday, with revenues rising 5% from a year ago, while per share earnings of $1.81 were 50% higher than a year ago. Both numbers were ahead of consensus estimates, with earnings vastly higher (+52%) than the consensus estimate of $1.19. Overall volumes increased 6% while pricing was down about 1%.

Removing the impact on sales growth of an extra calendar week, sales fell 2%, with volumes down about 1.5% and prices down about 0.5%. Stronger beef (+3%) and pork (+1%) revenues offset weaker chicken (-8%) sales. Chicken prices fell 6% due to the ongoing over-supply conditions.

The adjusted operating profit margin of 9.0% was considerably stronger than the year-ago 6.3% margin, driven by favorable beef and pork prices. The margin would have been 1.7 percentage points higher but for $200 million of direct Covid costs.

Tyson’s fourth quarter guidance pointed toward continued but moderate improvements. Overall, it looks like Tyson’s annual earnings power is around $6.25/share, better than the $5.64 for fiscal 2020 and higher than most pre-Covid years. The company raised its dividend by 6% to $0.445 per quarter. Tyson’s recovery will remain volatile from quarter to quarter but is on the right track.

In a rather strange case, several Tyson managers and employees were suspended without pay when the company learned that they apparently had placed bets on how many employees would contract the Covid virus. Tyson also hired former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to conduct an investigation. We see this aggressive response as an indication that the company is cleaning up its operations.

The shares rose 1% in the past week to the high side of its 58-65 trading range. The stock has 17% upside to our 75 price target.

With its fiscal year now completed (ended Sept 3), we look to fiscal 2021 results. On this basis, Tyson currently trades at 11.3x estimated 2021 earnings of $5.69. This estimate ticked down a cent in the past week. Currently the stock offers a 2.6% dividend yield. While the shares may take some time to recover, we are staying with the name. BUY.

Universal Electronics (UEIC) is a major producer of universal remote controls for TVs and related gear. Earlier this month, we moved Hold-rated UEIC shares to a Sell, as the shares surged to about 4% above our 47 price target. We saw limited near-term risk to Universal but were reluctant to raise our price target, either. For investors who purchased the shares at their recommendation price of 57 over four years ago, the 14% loss has no doubt been frustrating. For more recent buyers, the gains have been robust. SELL.

Voya Financial (VOYA) is a U.S. retirement, investment and insurance company serving 13.8 million individual and institutional customers. Earlier this month, we moved our rating on Voya to a Sell. Part of our motivation was that we lost confidence in Voya’s earnings quality, particularly given the opaqueness of insurance company earnings data in general and with Voya’s practice of running above-industry-norms levels of charges through the income statement. Also, the non-bargain valuation and paltry dividend yield offered little incentive to continue to hold the shares. We don’t see any imminent risk, but see no reason to linger, either. The shares have produced an 8% total return since our new coverage began on June 30. SELL.


New Buy: JetBlue Airlines (JBLU) is a low-cost airlines company. Started in 1999 from JFK Airport in New York City, the company has grown to now serve nearly 100 destinations in the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The company’s revenues of $8.1 billion last year compared to about $45 billion for legacy carriers like United, American and Delta, and were about a third the revenues of Southwest Airlines ($22 billion).

Its low fares and high customer service ratings (with among the highest customer satisfaction ratings in the industry) have built a strong brand loyalty. Low costs, including its point-to-point route structure, have helped JetBlue produce high margins in prior years, particularly relative to the legacy carriers. Its TrueBlue mileage awards program is a recurring source of revenues, as it sells miles to credit card issuers.

The pandemic has sent JetBlue, and the entire industry, into a near-term depression. Its available seat miles (ASM – a measure of how may seats an airline flies) were only 42% of its year-ago level. Like its peers, JetBlue parked many of its jets, flew others less-frequently, and took middle seats off the market. On its in-service planes, it filled less than half of its available seats with passengers in the third quarter, further weighing on revenues which fell 76% in the quarter.

To help reduce its $6 million/day cash burn (cash outflows from operating losses and capital spending), JetBlue is aggressively cutting its costs. Also, per-gallon fuel prices are 40% cheaper than a year ago, easing what is typically its second-highest expense.

We think consumers are increasingly likely to return to flying. Good news on a Covid vaccine, the continued economic recovery, and pent-up demand are starting to bring back passengers, particularly the leisure traveler. Business travelers are more likely to be slower to return to air travel. Your chief analyst is one such leisure travel venturer, flying non-stop from Boston to San Diego last week (full disclosure: on JetBlue) with no Covid issues. JetBlue’s route base and customer profile make it likely to be among the first to see a step-up in traffic.

JetBlue’s cash balance of $3.1 billion gives it plenty of time to recover, given its shrinking cash burn, although its debt is somewhat elevated at $4.8 billion. While JBLU shares have jumped recently, and near-term it remains vulnerable to rising quarantine risks in the Northeast, its longer-term outlook is promising.
The shares carry more than the usual amount of risk, given uncertainties from the pandemic, fuel costs, labor issues, the ever-present risk of irrational competition, and the overall economy.

We are putting a 20 price target on JBLU shares, representing a 25% upside potential. BUY.

Columbia Sportswear (COLM) produces the highly recognizable Columbia brand outdoor and active lifestyle apparel and accessories, as well as SOREL, Mountain Hardware, and prAna products. For decades, the company was successfully led by the one-of-a-kind Gert Boyle, who passed away late last year. The Boyle family retains a 36% ownership stake and Gert’s son Timothy Boyle remains at the helm.

After a disappointing third quarter, after which the stock fell sharply, as price-sensitive investors, we raised COLM shares back to a Buy. We think the company low-balled its guidance, with its long-term earnings power impeded but pushed out into the future. It also announced personnel changes in several key operational roles. Columbia’s balance sheet remained solid.

There was no meaningful news on the company this past week.

Columbia’s shares rose 4% this past week and have about 16% more upside to our 100 price target.

The shares trade at 23.3x estimated 2021 earnings of $3.71. The earnings estimate ticked down fractionally from last week. For comparison, the company earned $4.83/share in 2019. BUY.

Equitable Holdings (EQH) owns two principal businesses: Equitable Financial Life Insurance Co. and a majority (65%) stake in AllianceBernstein Holdings L.P. (AB), a highly respected investment management and research firm. Acquired by French insurer AXA in 1992, Equitable began its return to independence with its 2018 initial public offering as part of a spinoff. AXA currently owns less than 10% of Equitable. With its newfound independence, Equitable is free to pursue new opportunities.

The company is well-capitalized and has significant liquidity. Its diverse, high-quality investment portfolio is hedged against adverse changes in interest rates and equity markets. Equitable has continued its share repurchase program through the pandemic.

AllianceBernstein shares (AB) are modestly attractive in their own right. Our October 14th note has more color on AllianceBernstein.

Equitable’s third quarter results were good, with adjusted per share earnings falling 9% but were 5% higher than consensus estimates. Equitable added to its excess capital and liquidity base. Overall, while its large variable annuities book may be vulnerable to market pullbacks, the company continues to slowly but steadily prove its stability and strength while returning cash to shareholders.

The company is targeting a 50-60% of earnings payout ratio in the form of combined dividends and share repurchases. Its recently announced agreement to transfer the financial risk on $12 billion of its retirement-income annuities to Venerable Holdings will add additional flexibility to repurchase an incremental $500 million in shares in 2021, on top of their previous repurchase commitments. Book value per share, excluding intangibles, fell 7% to $26.63. Book value including intangibles rose 32% to $36.05.

There was no meaningful news on the company this past week.

EQH shares rose 7% in the past week and have about 8% upside to our 28 price target.

Like many insurance companies, investors often value Equitable on a book value basis. On this basis, EQH shares trade at 98% of its $26.63 tangible book value, a modest discount. We note that the book value will likely move around some in future quarters, depending on the timing of the mark-to-market of its private equity investments and other factors.

EQH shares are also undervalued on earnings, trading at 5.7x estimated 2020 earnings of $4.54 (up about 1¢ in the past week). The shares offer a 2.6% dividend yield. BUY.

General Motors (GM) under CEO Mary Barra (since 2014) has transformed from a lumbering giant to a well-run and (almost) respected auto maker. The company has smartly exited many chronically unprofitable geographies (notably Europe) and trimmed its passenger car roster while boosting its North American market share with increasingly competitive vehicles, particularly light trucks. We consider its electric and autonomous vehicle efforts to be near industry-leading. We would say it is perhaps 75% of the way through its gas-powered vehicle turnaround and is well-positioned but in the very early stages of its EV development. Its GM Financial operations are well-capitalized but may be tested as the pandemic unfolds. Near-term, the shares will trade based on progress with a federal stimulus plan, the pandemic, the general U.S. economic outlook, trends in light vehicle sales, its progress with alternative vehicles and of course its earnings.

GM produced a remarkable third quarter, with adjusted earnings increasing 65% from a year ago and nearly double the $1.43 consensus estimate. From a different perspective, the company’s revenues were the same as a year ago, but the $5.3 billion in adjusted operating profits was $2.3 billion, or 78%, higher. Its outlook is for a strong 2021, with perhaps a return to the $6.50 earnings per share range that it would otherwise have earned this year. GM’s balance sheet is sturdy, with Automotive segment cash exceeding Automotive debt again. GM Financial’s capital position remains sturdy.

GM’s CEO Mary Barra and other high-profile CEOs recently met with president-elect Biden and other officials. Also, the company re-aligned its stance regarding California’s ability to set its own fuel-efficiency standards, saying that GM is now aligned with both that state’s policies and the federal government’s. We see these steps as savvy relations-building.

A former GM board member/UAW union official was sentenced to 30 months in prison for taking kickbacks in a corruption scandal.

GM said that labor strife in South Korea may force it to exit the country. Two years ago, GM’s operations there faced bankruptcy but were rescued by a government bailout. The issue is complex as GM agreed to maintain operations there for 10 years under the bailout terms, and it manufactures vehicles in South Korea for export to the U.S. market. However, work stoppages have created a huge backlog and the operation is already highly unprofitable ($300 million loss last year). Higher wages would worsen this problem.

GM announced that it would boost its EV spending by more than a third, to $27 billion from its former $20 billion total, and will launch 30 new EVs, over the next five years. This cements the company’s commitment to electric vehicles. GM’s battery business is part of the boost and could be a significant hidden asset.

Also, GM said that it will be launching a car insurance business that uses its remotely-tracked driver data via OnStar to set its rates. GM previously sold car insurance but divested this business in the 2009 financial crisis.

The company provided a reminder that it still carries the “old GM” baggage, announcing a recall of 5.9 vehicles for faulty airbag devices.

This past week, GM shares rose about 10%, and have gained about 70% since the end of June. The shares have reached their all-time, post-bankruptcy highs after struggling for years at a narrow range around their 33 IPO price. As the shares have surged past our 45 price target, we are raising our target modestly to 49. We’ll admit some hesitancy in raising the price target – GM has been a chronic disappointment, literally, for decades, with many false dawns. However, to push the analogy, the stars do appear to be aligning this time. The stock has about 7% upside to our new 49 price target.

GM shares trade at 9.7x estimated 2020 earnings of $4.77 and 7.9x estimated 2021 earnings of $5.84. The estimates are unchanged this past week. HOLD.

Marathon Petroleum (MPC) is a leading integrated downstream energy company and the nation’s largest energy refiner, with 16 refineries, a majority interest in midstream company MPLX LP, 10,000 miles of oil pipelines, and product sales in 11,700 retail stores.

We moved MPC shares to a Sell as the shares essentially reached our price target after a 37% surge. Industry conditions and outlook have improved, but from being heavily depressed to being only partly depressed. For at least the near-term and possibly the next year, there is considerable risk that conditions don’t actually improve much from here, and they may deteriorate. We note that consensus estimates are starting to tick down again. Also, there is heightened regulatory risk from the change-over in the U.S. presidency.

We recognize that there is also a chance that industry conditions improve a lot further. The future is of course unknowable, so with the shares no longer selling at a large discount, our valuation-driven edge faded. SELL.

Molson Coors Beverage Company (TAP) – The thesis for this company is straightforward – a reasonably stable company whose shares sell at a highly discounted price. One of the world’s largest beverage companies, Molson Coors produces the highly recognized Coors, Molson, Miller, and Blue Moon brands as well as numerous local, craft, and specialty beers. About two-thirds of its $10 billion in net revenues are produced in the United States, where it holds a 24% share of the beer market.

Investors’ primary worry about Molson Coors is its lack of meaningful (or any) revenue growth as it has relatively few of the fast-growing hard seltzers and other trendier beverages in its product portfolio. Our view is that the company’s revenues are resilient, it produces generous cash flow and is reducing its debt, traits that are value-accretive and under-priced by the market. A new CEO is helping improve its operating efficiency and expand carefully into more growthier products.

We anticipate that the company will resume paying a dividend mid-next year, perhaps at a $0.35/share quarterly rate, which would provide a generous 3.0% yield.

Molson Coors recent results showed that the company is making progress with its turnaround and that investors underestimate this progress. Net revenues fell 3.1% but were about 4% better than consensus estimates. Adjusted per share earnings were nearly 60% better than estimates. Underlying EBITDA was 1% higher than a year ago and 26% higher than estimates.

There was essentially no news regarding the company this past week.

TAP shares rose 3% in the past week and have jumped about 43% from their September and October lows. The shares have about 27% upside to our 59 price target.

The shares trade at 11.0x estimated 2020 earnings of $4.21 and 11.1x estimated 2021 earnings of $4.17. Both estimates were unchanged from last week. These valuations are low.

On an EV/EBITDA basis, or enterprise value/cash operating profits, the shares trade for about 8.0x estimates, among the lowest valuations in the consumer staples group and well below other brewing companies.

For investors looking for a stable company trading at an unreasonably low valuation, TAP shares have considerable contrarian appeal. Patience is the key with Molson Coors shares. We think the value is solid although it might take a year or two to be fully recognized by the market. BUY.

Terminix Global Holdings (TMX) is both a new company and an old company. While the name “Terminix” is one of the largest and most widely recognized names in pest control, the company was previously obscured inside of the ServiceMaster conglomerate. With the sale of its ServiceMaster Brands operations recently completed, the company changed its name to Terminix and started trading under the TMX ticker symbol on October 5th. The divestiture cleans up the company’s balance sheet. Terminix appears to have fully addressed its legal liability from deficient termite treatments, removing an overhang on its shares. A new CEO, Brett Ponton, former head of Monro (MNRO), joined in August. His leadership at Monro led to sales growth and a strong recovery in its share price. Our expectation is that he will bring sales growth, operational efficiency, and integrity to Terminix, ultimately leading to a higher share price.

Terminix reported third quarter adjusted per share earnings of $0.26, on revenues of $512 million. Revenues increased 10% from a year ago, with residential revenues increased 4% while commercial revenues fell 3%. Acquired franchises and European franchises provided growth as well. Adjusted EBITDA of $98 million was healthy. Unusual expenses totaling $52 million weighed on the quarter, but likely won’t hold back future results.

There was essentially no news regarding the company this past week.
Terminix shares rose about 4% in the past week and have 12% remaining upside to our 57 price target.

Reliable consensus earnings estimates are not yet available, but we anticipate that 2022 estimates will settle at around $1.60/share. This would put the TMX multiple at a high 31.9x, but we recognize that these types of companies generally are valued on EV/EBITDA. On this basis, the shares trade at about 17.6x EBITDA.

Major risks include the possibility of new disclosures that would significantly increase the company’s litigation expenses, difficult industry competition that may exert pricing pressure, and possible execution risks by the new leadership. TMX shares carry more risk than typical CUSA stocks, but if its litigation and sub-par margins are behind them, we see a clear path to a higher stock price.

With a reasonable valuation, solid balance sheet, renewed focus and better revenue and margin outlook, there is a lot to like about Terminix. BUY.

ViacomCBS (VIAC) is a major media and entertainment company, owning highly recognized properties including Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, MTV and BET, the Paramount movie studios, Showtime, and all of the CBS-related media assets. The company’s brands are powerful and enduring, typically holding the #1 market shares in the highest-valued demographic groups in the country. ViacomCBS’s reach extends into 180 countries around the world. Viacom and CBS re-merged in late 2019 and are now under the capable leadership of former Viacom CEO Robert Bakish.

Viacom is being overhauled to stabilize its revenues, boost its relevancy for current/future viewing habits, and improve its free cash flow. Its challenges include the steady secular shift away from cable TV subscriptions, which is pressuring advertising and subscription revenues. The pandemic-related reductions in major sports are also weighing on VIAC shares. However, ViacomCBS’s extensive reach, strong market position and strategic value to other, much larger media companies, and its low share valuation, make the stock appealing.

As part of its overhaul, Viacom is shifting away from advertising (currently about 36% of revenues) and affiliate fees (currently about 39% of revenues), toward content licensing – essentially renting its vast library of movies, TV shows and other content to third-party firms like Netflix and others. Viacom is building out its own streaming channel (Paramount+) and other new distribution channels, which are generally showing fast growth. Ultimately, we think the company may be acquired by a major competitor, given its valuable businesses and content library, as well as its bite-sized market cap of about $20 billion.

Viacom reported a reasonably good third quarter, with adjusted profits down 17% from a year ago, but about 14% above consensus estimates. Revenues fell 9% but were slightly higher than estimates. The company generated $1.4 billion in operating cash flow and $1.3 billion in free cash flow. The cost-cutting program is well-underway and boosting cash flow. However, cash flow ultimately needs to be higher. So far this year, ViacomCBS has reduced its debt net of cash by about $1.5 billion, or 8%. Cash remains robust at $3 billion.

There was essentially no news regarding the company this past week.

VIAC shares rose about 7% this past week and have about 25% upside to our 43 price target.

ViacomCBS shares trade at about 8.2x estimated 2021 EBITDA, which we believe undervalues the company’s impressive leadership and assets. On a price/earnings basis, VIAC shares trade at 8.0x estimated 2021 earnings of $4.31 (estimate slipped 3¢ from a week ago). ViacomCBS shares offer a sustainable 2.8% dividend yield and look attractive here. BUY.