Questor share tip: Cranswick brings home the bacon

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Cranswick (LSE: CWK.L - news) 's exports mean it has a bright future. Questor says hold.

Cranswick 951p+13 Questor says HOLD

The discovery of horse meat in supermarket beefburgers is likely to make consumers think twice about buying cheap meat. This can only be good for quality pork producer Cranswick.

Cranswick was established by British farmers in the early Seventies to produce feed for their pigs. In 1988, the company decided to broaden its scope, branching out into producing high quality pork products.

It now supplies some of the major UK supermarkets; it has recently been awarded an export licence to China; and it is on the verge of being given approval to sell its offerings in Australia. Cranswick also sells ribs into the US market. On top of this, the company recently struck a £30m-a-year deal to be Asda’s main pork supplier. The food group will provide between 300 and 350 tonnes of pork a week to the supermarket group.

In yesterday’s update Cranswick, which sells brands including The Black Farmer and Weight Watchers, revealed that total sales had risen by 8pc in the three months to January 31. Like-for-like sales were up 7pc. Sales growth of bacon, sausages and cooked meat products was particularly strong, Cranswick said. However, there has been a hit on margins because of rising input prices.

This has been caused by droughts in the grain-growing regions of the US and Russia and floods in the UK which hit animal feed supply, causing UK pig prices to soar to record levels in December last year, when they reached 160p per kilo. Although prices are not expected to rise significantly in the near term, they are not expected decrease, either.

While this initially proved a hit to margins, constructive discussions with customers over pricing helped to partially mitigate the full impact. Essentially Cranswick got supermarkets to agree to pass these prices on.

The Asda contract is good news for the company and comes following the closure of the supermarket’s previous provider’s operation in Scotland. Questor noted at the end of November (Xetra: A0Z24E - news) that the uncertainty surrounding the future of Dutch group Vion could be beneficial for Cranswick, and so it has proved to be.

Cranswick has bought former fish processing plant near Hull, which is already a food-grade facility. Built in 2000, it closed in 2011 as fish imports from Iceland plunged. It will take just weeks to convert it into Cranswick’s processing operation, which will use the company’s own abattoir in Preston. The new factory will create about 100 jobs.

The group now gets about 5pc of its sales from exports but this is expected to continue to grow. China is an important market, into which Cranswick sells products including so-called “5th quarter products” pigs heads and feet that UK consumers are too squeamish to consume. The company currently exports 2,000 tonnes a month.

The shares are currently trading on a 2013 earnings multiple 12.4, falling to 11.5 next year. The prospective yield is 3.2pc.

Questor is getting concerned about market valuations after the recent strong run in equities. It is probably a good time for investors to consider taking profits in some of their holdings by selling a proportion of their shares or bank gains in cyclicals. However, despite the strong run in Cranswick shares Questor does not feel inclined to recommend taking profits in this case, given the export outlook and Asda contract, so keeps a hold rating.