It's Still Going, So Don't Let This Stalwart Get Away

Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - 6:19pm

by Frederick M. Steier

I've been on a kick lately researching global brands. The reason is because these companies not only make for great defensive positions to have in a down market, but a certain number of these stalwarts have been able to reinvent themselves in recent years. This oftentimes transforms companies from boring, overlooked investments into modest growth plays that provide outsized returns over time.

I've found one company that appears to fit this bill exactly.

Certain things are just necessities in life. Batteries are one of them. Energizer (NYSE: ENR) has been in the public lexicon for thirty years, and most don't even realize that it is just a rebranded product, formerly known as the Eveready battery. Nine years later, the Bunny appeared on the scene and the rest is history.

It's hard to say which battery brand truly "lasts longer," but it doesn't matter to Energizer. The company has built its reputation simply by taking a product that is a commodity and creating a great brand around it. As a result, Energizer batteries are sold in 165 countries and hold about 25% of the market.

As technology has changed, batteries have too. This permitted Energizer to expand into rechargeable batteries, lithium-based batteries and batteries that fit all kinds of consumer products. Where consumer products lead, Energizer follows. The company waits for others to innovate, then adapts its operation to create a battery for it.

Recently, however, Energizer saw fit to expand its business into other consumer products via acquisition. Normally, I'm not a fan of growth via acquisition. However, if a global brand name acquires other brand names, it begins to take on the appearance of a holding company.

This can reap big rewards for investors. Companies like Liberty Media (Nasdaq: LINTA) are a perfect example. Liberty's captured businesses are strong brand names and generate huge cash flow. Energizer decided to head in this direction and the move has jump-started the company's growth prospects. A few recent brand purchases include Schick, Edge, and Skintimate in the wet shave arena. Skin care products have been scooped up also, namely Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic suntan lotion as well as the Playtex brand. And if you own a diaper genie for your little one, you may not realize that Energizer is the parent company.

Investors should ask what kind of risks Energizer faces going forward. It is a retail company, and that generally means bad news in a recession. However, Energizer also launched its own shaving line this year, and expectations are for it to generate between $75 million and $100 million this year alone. Even without much contribution from this new product, second quarter earnings leapt +15%. That's fantastic for a retail company in this environment.

Setting this aside, investors want to make sure that a defensive name like this is in fact a safe harbor by checking on company financials. At first glance, the $1.7 billion in net debt may be unsettling. However, trailing twelve month earnings are more than $300 million after debt service. During this same period, Energizer generated a whopping $525 million in free cash flow. That makes $1.7 billon in debt look positively small by comparison.

Insiders own 7% of the company and mutual funds own upwards of 30% of the shares outstanding, which suggests that fund managers see Energizer as a defensive play at the very least.

Action to Take ----> Energizer is a stalwart-growth hybrid. Its expected growth rate of +8% going forward reflects this. Given that the stock trades at nine times next year's earnings, this means you can jump in today and expect a solid return. That makes Energizer a great core holding, particularly in a tough market.

Frederick M. Steier does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.
StreetAuthority LLC does not hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.