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食品行业

Lex_Noodles and milk: deal time?

旺旺、康师傅和统一企业中国的股票估值都较高,且都面临有机增长放缓。这三家食品集团不妨利用各自高昂的股价收购新品牌,或进入新市场。

Milk drinks or noodles? Both are bigger in Asia, notably China, than other parts of the world. Better earnings from the former drove Want Want higher on Wednesday while Tingyi and Uni-President China, the noodle kings embroiled in a price war, both slipped. Step back however and all three have more in common than their snack specialities suggest. They all enjoy high valuations and face slowing organic growth.

Growth in sweets and chocolate sales has dropped below 10 per cent for the first time in a decade, according to Standard Chartered. Growth in instant noodle consumption per capita is heading the same way, having been nearer 20 per cent three years ago. Juice drink sales are rising at less than half the rate three years ago. There are various explanations including China’s slowing economic growth and a rise in health consciousness among its 1.3bn consumers (bottled water sales are still rising 16 per cent a year).

Yet all three companies are trading on between 26 and 28 times expected earnings – a premium to European and American rivals such as Nestlé and Kraft Foods on 19 and 17 times respectively. None of those sector growth rates are a disaster for the Asian snack groups. But they will face pressure to justify ratings more usually equated with Hermes or Michael Kors than companies battling over beef noodles, chocolate milk and rice crackers.

One possible response would be to use those highly rated shares to buy in brands or move into new markets. That would fit with a consolidating, maturing industry. Want Want and Tingyi also hold net cash of $802m and $99m respectively. Uni-President has net debt, but it is fairly modest as a proportion of earnings and investors who love the stock as much as they appear to should allow it some leeway. Done well, smallish deals would be a good use of such luxury valuations.

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