After denying for months that surging food prices will eventually come to the consumer, hoping that instead food companies could absorb the margin drop, sellside research is finally capitulating to the reality of what is really happening in the retail store. In a note discussing General Mills, Goldman Sachs says the company raised prices on snack bars some 7% last week. Goldman further clarifies that "this reportedly followed a comparable increase taken by K on its snack bars in mid-December. In addition, KFT has reportedly announced a 6% increase on select Planters branded nut products. We expect more price increases to be announced by the food companies in the coming weeks." Maybe, but the Chairman sure doesn't. And the Chairman is always 100% correct.
Other observations from Goldman on what are now seen as inevitable price increases across numerous food verticals.
These pricing actions support our Food sector view that price momentum will continue to build as 2011 progresses, driven by easing promotional spending and list price increases (see our 1/5 report, Time to embrace inflation; Upgrade Food to Neutral, GIS to buy). This should drive top-line acceleration and margin stabilization over the course of 2011. Evidence of the progression is already apparent in retail scanner data (see our 1/11 report, Progression to a ‘less bad’ promo environment continues). Scanner data is likely to continue to show a measured pace of price growth. That said, we acknowledge that the growth is likely to build gradually as the pass-through of list price hikes to retail shelves lags and the reduction of promotional spend takes time to execute.
As a reminder, in December, the food component of the CPI increased by 0.1%, the lowest amount since July...
And just to complete the circus, Goldman now views price pass throughs as a good thing. See: it resolves the margin issue. Uh, yeah. But someone should explain to Goldman that when calculating revenue, one multiples Price (P) by Volume (V). And in a stagflationary economy, and increase in P results in a more than commensurate decline in V, offsetting all margin boosts.
GIS (Buy) remains our top Food pick and snack bar price hikes reinforce our conviction. To our knowledge, Mills has now executed price increases in categories that account for roughly half of its US retail portfolio (and we think there may be other increases we are not yet aware of). The snack bar price hike alone may tally to 40 bps of price growth at the aggregate US retail segment level (roughly 6% of sales rising 7%). This 40 bps is meaningful when you consider that our model only aspires to 140 bps of price growth on average for GIS’ US Retail Segment over the next four quarters. And the coinciding price moves by Mills’ competitors reduces the risk of cross-price elasticity-driven volume softness. Our PT is unchanged.
And to the Fed, which erroneously believes that a one day sell off in stocks will prevent oil (and food) prices from posting double digit returns on the back of several trillion pieces of linen printed globally in 2010, you have our condolences.... Better keep those emergency evacuation G-Sixes fueled, staffed and ready.