HANS: Growth Comes Cheap at Hansen Natural

The following is a reprint of my January 25, 2007 RealMoney column.

Hansen Natural (HANS) develops “alternative” soft drinks such as natural sodas, fruit juice drinks and energy drinks. It is best known for its “Monster” brand energy drink, which is the second-most popular brand of energy drink and has helped the company’s shares become one of the best investments of the last decade.

Hansen now has to prove whether, unlike the namesake one-hit-wonder boy band, it can sustain its momentum to new products and markets. We know what John Edwards thinks of leading energy drink Red Bull, and it’s probably not a stretch to think that many others feel similarly about the new concoctions.

Still, that hasn’t stopped the market from growing exponentially for the last several years. The question keeps getting asked whether the growth can continue, and the answer has always been affirmative so far. What’s more, the past improvement seems sufficient to justify holding the name even if growth slows substantially.

For example, over the last 12 months Hansen generated free cash flow (cash from operations less capital expenditures) of $98 million. Based on its $3.4 billion enterprise value, this equates to a 2.9% free cash flow yield. With the market turmoil having pushed 5-year Treasury yields below 2.5%, Hansen is now yielding a premium to Treasuries despite offering substantial growth opportunity – more than 40% sales growth in 2007 and another 30% or more expected in 2008.

By contrast, Pepsi (PEP - Annual Report) is offering a more generous 4.3% free cash flow yield, but is expected to grow just 7.5%. Meanwhile, Jones Soda (JSDA) is expected to grow a similar 30% in 2008 (though off less-impressive 2007 growth) but its cash flow from operating activity over the last year has been negative.

If Hansen grows as expected this year, its free cash flow yield (relative to the current enterprise value) would approach Pepsi’s. Any additional future growth would be a bonus from that point. And there seem to be many opportunities for the growth to continue.

For example, last February Hansen entered a distribution agreement with Pepsi-QTG Canada. This gives Hansen its first real crack at international sales, which increased from 2.6% of the total in the first nine months of 2006 to 4.0% in the same period last year. Its domestic distribution has also been enhanced by deals with Anheuser-Busch (BUD).

To incorporate earnings quality, I calculated an accrual ratio for Hansen, which describes how much of a company’s earnings (in this case, over the preceding 12 months) are explained by cash flows rather than accounting choices. The closer to 100%, the better, and Hansen’s accrual ratio has been much less volatile than I would have thought for a company growing so fast (rapid growth typically requires cash outflows that aren’t reflected in current earnings.)

hans-accruals.jpg

Source: Zacks Research Wizard, compiled by William A. Trent

Operating profit margins were lower in the first nine months of 2007, but this was primarily due to the legal and accounting expenses surrounding an investigation of stock-option granting practices and the costs associated with terminating existing distribution agreements as the company enhanced its relationship with Anheuser-Busch.

The biggest risk for shareholders is probably Hansen’s choppy record with regard to earnings expectations. The company reported earnings below consensus expectations in two of the last four quarters, and since a miss in November the shares have shed more than 40% of their value. A two-year chart reveals a similar situation in mid-2006.

That 2006 sell-off proved in hindsight to be a terrific buying opportunity. Based on Hansen’s current valuation, I think the current one may prove to be the same.

Disclosure: No positions held at time of writing.

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Topics: Anheuser Busch (BUD), Beverages (Alcoholic), Beverages (Non-Alcoholic), Hansen Natural (HANS), Jones Soda (JSDA), Pepsico (PEP) | RSS

One Comment on “HANS: Growth Comes Cheap at Hansen Natural”

  1. [...] While it’s true that the sales were boosted by robbing sales from next quarter, that is a short term issue. I said last month that “Hansen should be able to maintain its current free cash flow yield as long as the company keeps growing, which suggests potential upside in line with the 30% growth rate this year. Unless the growth rate slows substantially, it looks like a keeper.” [...]

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