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No profit, no love for Beyond Meat as shares fall

(Reuters) - Shares of Beyond Meat Inc fell nearly 20% on Friday after it narrowly failed to make a profit in the fourth quarter despite tripling sales, eating into expectations among investors for the high-flying faux meat maker.

FILE PHOTO: Vegetarian sausages from Beyond Meat Inc, the vegan burger maker, are shown for sale at a market in Encinitas, California, U.S., June 5, 2019. REUTERS/File Photo

Beyond Meat, which surged nearly ten-fold in market value from its initial public offering price, has since partnered with numerous retail chains and restaurants, including McDonald’s, helping the company more than triple its revenue in 2019.

But with rival plant-based meat producers - from Impossible Foods, to Kellogg Co’s Morningstar Farms, or Nestle SA’s Sweet Earth - vying for shelf space at retailers and deals with food service outlets, analysts say the company is at risk of losing its first mover advantage.

Thursday’s quarterly report showed a 1 cent per share loss for the quarter, versus analyst expectations of a 1 cent profit, driving a selloff in the company’s shares that wiped about $1 billion off its market valuation. Major U.S. stock indexes tumbled about 3% as the coronavirus outbreak raised fears of a global recession.

“Pricey valuation, increasing competition, and the potential for new selling pressures following the expiration of the lock-up suggest more muted upside potential from here,” Oppenheimer analyst Rupesh Parikh said.

From a peak of just under $240 last July, shares in the company have now fallen below $100 but still look expensive on a traditional valuation basis at 222.21 times expected earnings.

Parikh and a number of other Wall Street analysts who have backed the company through last year’s hype, underlined that the results were still strong, showing it within a whisker of generating a profit at a time when it is investing aggressively in production and launches globally.

Piper Sandler analyst Michael Lavery said that Beyond Meat is growing rapidly and its product portfolio aligns with consumer trends.

Another, Jefferies’ Rob Dickerson, argued management’s focus now on aggressive growth was right, even if it came at the expense of near-term profit and margins.

“Given competition is ramping quickly, we agree with the strategy, especially if management wants to hold its first mover advantage,” he said.

“We simply find (the) valuation too rich to step in at this price, given competitive uncertainty and potential capital needs over the next three years.”

Dickerson cut his price target on the stock by $23 to $107, closer to the current median of analysts at $111.38.

“Margins should not be a key investment consideration at this juncture,” D.A. Davidson’s Brian Holland said.

Reporting by Aakash Jagadeesh Babu and Jasmine I S in Bengaluru; editing by Aishwarya Venugopal and Patrick Graham