JPMorgan thinks this big consumer staple is a buy for the first time in 5 years

Key Points
  • JPMorgan analyst Ken Goldman raised Kellogg's stock rating to overweight from neutral after the cereal maker beat earnings expectations on Thursday.
  • The optimism is on the company's transition from direct store delivery to warehouse distribution.
  • Kellogg shares rose over 4 percent on Thursday after beating second-quarter expectations.
Various types of Kellogg's cereals at a Ralphs grocery store in Pasadena, California.
Mario Anzuoni | Reuters

JPMorgan upgraded Kellogg to overweight, its first buy recommendation for the stock in more than five years, citing both the company's delivery overhaul as well as more favorable currency conditions.

"Though we remain concerned about general trends in US food, on a relative basis we now think the K shares are attractive," wrote JPMorgan analyst Ken Goldman in Friday's note. "Due partly to less of a currency headwind and partly to our increased confidence in the DSD-to-warehouse transition, we are boosting our earnings forecasts."

Kellogg shares rose over 4 percent on Thursday after beating second-quarter expectations. They were up another 1 percent in Friday premarket on JPMorgan's call. The stock is down 15 percent in the last 12 months because investors have been punishing food companies specializing in non-fresh items.

Kellogg initiated a sweeping transformation of its delivery system this year, shifting from the classic direct store delivery (DSD) model to warehouse distribution, a decision JPMorgan's Goldman sees as an earnings catalyst because it will cut costs.

"When the DSD transition was initially announced, a company spokesperson said to the media that Kellogg expected to close 39 distribution centers with an average of 30 full-time worker per facility. This implied 1,170 job cuts," added Goldman. "As we recently wrote, however, we think this forecast is well below where actual layoffs will come in."

Goldman raised his 12-month price target to $78 from $76, representing 11 percent upside from Thursday's close. The shares have underperformed the market the last five years, proving JPMorgan was right in staying away.

CEO John Bryant highlighted the company's optimistic outlook due to the transition away from direct store delivery in Thursday's earnings call.

"We are very close to completing this ambitious and complex transition. In fact, we're already shipping through warehouse to all of our customers," said Bryant. "From a financial perspective, we remain on track toward our full year guidance."

Bryant did note that while U.S. cereal sales were soft in the second quarter, performance in Canada, Australia, and the UK all improved.

Kellogg reported adjusted EPS of $0.97 versus expectations of $0.92, while revenue also beat expectations, with net sales totaling $3.19 billion versus Reuters expectations of $3.16 billion.