Yeo's tops list of best performing food firms

PHOTO: Yeo's tops list of best performing food firms

The high-profile dispute between commodities trader Olam International and the Muddy Waters research firm has helped turn the spotlight on food producers.

Olam International, which supplies agricultural produce from almonds to coffee and tomatoes, is a large player in this sector.

The sector includes farming and plantation companies and makers of products such as canned food, instant beverages and soft drinks.

There are about 40 Singapore-listed firms operating in the industry, said a report this week by SGX My Gateway, the bourse operator's investor education portal.

Different sub-sectors have different dynamics. Plantations and commodities firms, for example, thrive when raw material prices surge but makers of end-products suffer as costs rise.

Yeo Hiap Seng, which sells canned food, sauces and drinks, has been the best performer among food producers this year. It has also developed properties.

At Thursday's market close the stock is up 233.6 per cent for the year. It benefited from a hefty rise in October on speculation that a buyout could be in the offing.

The company, which is majority-owned by Far East Organisation, is privatising its Malaysian unit.

"With the completion of its last property project, Jardin, by this year, we believe its new lease of life as a pure food and beverage play will be a key catalyst for the stock," said Maybank Kim Eng analyst James Koh in a report in early October.

"Yeo Hiap Seng has an agreement with PepsiCo that gives the latter a right of first refusal to buy Yeo Hiap Seng, its distributor and manufacturer in Singapore," he noted.

"However, as seen in the Asia Pacific Breweries saga, this does not preclude a bidding war that could well drive up Yeo Hiap Seng's share price in excess of our target price of $2.25."

Yeo Hiap Seng shares rose five cents to $3.92 yesterday.

Instant beverage maker Super Group is the second best-performing food producer, with the shares up 147.2 per cent in the year to Thursday.

"There's been a lot of good factors going for them," said DMG & Partners Research analyst Tan Han Meng.

Better sales at its branded consumer and ingredients divisions helped Super Group's third-quarter net profit rise 86 per cent to $22.6 million. It also benefited from operational efficiency and greater cost management.

Mr Tan said the results were better than expected and that the firm's margins have improved.

"This year, there's been a bit of focus on consumer goods," he said. "Super Group has, on and off, also been benefiting from the Myanmar theme."

Myanmar and markets such as Malaysia and the Philippines have been credited with driving robust sales growth at Super.

Instant beverage maker Viz Branz is the third best-performer this year, with a 116.7 per cent gain as at Thursday's close.

Viz Branz, like Super, sells some of its products in Myanmar.

OCBC Investment Research noted on Nov 15 that Myanmar's economic reforms have meant more foreign competitors for Viz Branz in the instant coffee market.

But it views "the dent in revenue growth to be manageable given (the company's) leadership position in the country as well as its strong distribution channels".

Growth in Viz Branz's other key market of China has "remained resilient" with consumers accepting increases in average selling prices, added OCBC.

"Entering the seasonally strongest quarter of the financial year, we expect Viz Branz to record another strong showing with further margin improvements."

Consumer goods company Lam Soon Cannery recently bought a stake in Viz Branz.

OCBC said it remains "optimistic" that Lam Soon will make a general offer for the rest of Viz Branz's shares in the near-term.

It has a "buy" call and target price of 74 cents on Viz Branz, whose products include instant coffee brands CappaRoma and Cafe21. The stock lost two cents to 69.5 cents yesterday.

SGX My Gateway's report also named the 10 biggest listed food producers by full market capitalisation.

The top three are Wilmar International, Golden Agri-Resources and Olam International, which are all included in the Straits Times Index.

The three "have underperformed the remaining seven of the ten biggest food producer stocks in the year-to-date", said SGX My Gateway.