Amid the violent economic disruptions of COVID-19, a flurry of high-priced (and possibly overvalued) year-end IPOs, and other 2020 events, a few stocks have "slipped through the cracks" when it comes to Wall Street and general investor attention.
While these neglected stocks may seem to be gathering dust and cobwebs compared to the shiny new food delivery or online vacation rental companies making splashy headlines and attracting heaps of investor enthusiasm, this gives alert Fools a potential buying opportunity. Three of these opportunities among consumer discretionary stocks include Restaurant Brands International (NYSE:QSR), The Unilever Group (NYSE:UL), and Molson Coors (NYSE:TAP).
1. Restaurant Brands International
Restaurant Brands International, or RBI, the parent company of fast-food chains Burger King, Tim Hortons, and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, recovered from a deep collapse during the early days of COVID-19 in the U.S. but has been stuck in a stock market rut ever since. Trading between $55 and $65 from late May through Jan. 2021, the company remains below its pre-pandemic price levels, though the S&P 500 has risen over 20% during the same period.
While the stock market's rebound has left Restaurant Brands International behind, investors are potentially ignoring positive long-term trends likely to play out as significant gains for the stock in the near future. The company's revenue rose from $4.58 billion in fiscal year 2017 to $5.60 billion in fiscal 2019, a 22.4% jump in just two years as RBI integrated its Popeyes acquisition. Trefis Research expects the top line to hit $5.87 billion in 2021.
Additional estimates put 2020 net income at $546.9 million, and the bottom line could rebound to $646.9 million this year. RBI's net income margin should also bounce back from 9.8% to 11.0% as vaccinations and the gradual retreat of the pandemic reduce the extra costs imposed on most businesses by COVID-19 and lead to a resurgence in dining out.
RBI's third-quarter 2020 results support a moderately bullish outlook as well. Its systemwide sales reached 94% of their year-ago levels despite the ongoing disruptions from COVID-19. While sales fell at Tim Hortons and Burger King, those at Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen rose 21.5% year over year, suggesting RBI may be in a position to wade back into the "chicken sandwich wars" once vaccinations and warmer weather enable partial or full restaurant reopenings. Comparable sales at the other two chains were also down year over year but better than the analyst consensus -- Burger King and Tim Hortons fell 7.9% and 13.7%, respectively, about half the decline forecasted for both brands.
RBI is responding to current conditions and future trends by greatly strengthening its delivery and drive-through services. In the latest earnings release, CEO Jose Cil says the company is "excited to roll out digital drive-thru menu boards to over 10,000 Tim Hortons and Burger King restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, the bulk of which will be installed by the end of next year."
RBI is also a dividend stock which maintained its payout through last year with the quarterly amount increasing to $0.52 per share. With growth likely to pick back up in the near future, a regular dividend, and a flexible strategic switch toward delivery and drive-through, RBI looks like a neglected stock with the potential for an upward surge in 2021.
2. The Unilever Group
Unilever is a company that has plodded along steadily for years, benefiting from economies of scale, efficient production, and a hugely diverse portfolio of more than 400 well-established food and household brands. Those advantages have fueled earnings per share (EPS) growth averaging around 6% for years and a healthy 65% payout ratio to its shareholders. While the stock is one of the most dependable, it also hasn't produced any spectacular breakout returns, thus flying below investors' radar. There are, however, some signs it might have more value than the market is currently pricing into its shares -- or could build that value soon with its upcoming initiatives.
For one thing, Unilever appears to be making a serious attempt to branch out and serve the rising demand for products like meat alternatives. It now has an active plant-based meat and dairy division, focusing on a sector that saw sales growth accelerate sharply in 2020. And in November, the company announced a one billion Euro sales target (approximately $1.2 billion) for its plant-based offerings over the next five to seven years. These will include new products for iconic brands like Hellmann's, along with a plant-based lineup sold in Europe by The Vegetarian Butcher, a 2018 acquisition.
Through an alliance with Burger King, The Vegetarian Butcher is even supplying plant-based Whoppers to China, Latin America, and the Caribbean with the product already offered in 325 restaurants in the potentially enormous Chinese market. Unilever will expand that product nationwide in the second quarter this year.
Third-quarter results show the company's growth moving in a positive direction despite the pandemic. Underlying sales growth (which excludes acquisitions, divestitures, and some currency fluctuation) amounted to 4.4%, indicating a positive trend compared compared to 1.4% for the first nine months of the year. Growth in emerging markets was even stronger at 5.3%. The in-home, hygiene, and laundry categories showed strength, while out-of-home and personal care sales fell. The latter categories, however, will see a rebound as COVID-19 vaccinations become widely distributed in 2021, pushing Unilever's growth even higher.
Unilever is also a dividend stock with a yield of 3.3% as of this writing. While it's overlooked to a degree among flashy IPOs, this appears to be a solid dividend stock well positioned for notable gains this year and beyond.
3. Molson Coors
Despite an upturn at the start of November following third-quarter revenue and earnings beats, Molson Coors stock has yet to regain its pre-COVID fizz. The stock is still down over 10% from its 2020 high, despite an 11% rally in the first month of the new year. Looking back even further, shares are trading at less than half of their five-year high.
But there are several signs Wall Street may be overlooking important changes at the company. During the company's Dec. 15 MKM Partners Virtual Conference, executives said innovation has greatly accelerated under Molson Coors' new strategy, taking three to four months to develop a new product rather than the previous 12 to 16 months. Cooperation with partners is key to this lightning-fast product development and release cycle, enabling Molson Coors to access pre-existing knowledge and processes which it can then transfer over to in-house manufacturing. Showcasing how well this process works, the company launched three completely new brands in 2020.
Molson Coors is also working to rapidly expand its "beyond beer" segment, building capacity to make 400% more seltzer and hard seltzer to tap into a red-hot beverage trend. The hard seltzer market has room for multiple players with sales expected to reach $6.5 billion in 2024, potentially enabling Molson Coors to reach its $1 billion hard seltzer sales goal sooner than expected.
Additionally, it's entering the even bigger energy drink market ($19.2 billion by 2024) in partnership with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, giving a celebrity boost to the healthy formula ZOA -- all signs this major beer industry player likely has more growth coming than Wall Street is crediting it for.
The company is apparently delivering on a turnaround strategy with scope that goes beyond new product development, though that element of the plan is important. Molson Coors is also looking to expand its "Above Premium" craft portfolio while streamlining its corporate organization to remove layers of bureaucracy and redundancy. As part of the reorganization, it's modernizing breweries, speeding up data management, and developing e-commerce capabilities. When it comes to capital allocation, the company is reducing its net debt and deleveraging as well, focusing investments on initiatives likely to create long-term value.
All three of these companies have more room to grow than I believe Wall Street is giving them credit for with major opportunities in new markets and evolving strategies for changing industry conditions. These stocks also happen to be trading at a discount to the broad market, so if you're on the search for companies that have been overlooked amid the chaos of the past year, these might be the right stocks for you.