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5 Promising Stocks From Your Pantry

Investors have returned to stock tickers in brave fashion. But while they’re placing pricey bets on struggling sectors, they may be ignoring some prosperous and cheap companies whose products fill their kitchen pantry.

Since the S&P 500 index closed at a humble 676 on March 9 it has rebounded 30%. Within the index, financials and “consumer discretionary” companies — the latter sell things we want but don’t need, like toys and restaurant meals — have soared 83% and 37%, respectively. Both sectors suffered steep earnings declines over the past year. Both now trade well above 20 times forecast 2009 earnings, vs. 16 times earnings for the index. Investors seem to be counting on a quick return to the borrowing and spending that powers profits for both sectors.

Packaged food makers seem a safer bet — and a cheaper one. While the average S&P 500 company saw its sales shrink 8% last quarter vs. a year earlier, the index’s pantry companies increased sales as consumers ate more meals at home. There’s no earnings rebound needed to justify food stock ticker’s prices: They trade at a reasonable 14 times 2009 earnings and they offer hearty dividend yields. The average is 3.4%, about a percentage point more than the S&P 500 index provides.

Below are five S&P 500 food stock tickers that look especially promising.

J.M . Smucker (SJM), which makes its namesake jams, Pillsbury rolls and Hungry Jack pancake mix, bought Procter & Gamble’s (PG) Folgers coffee business last year. The purchase has fueled giant sales increases of late, but even without it, sales would have increased 3% in the company’s most recent quarter. Profits beat Wall Street’s expectations in every quarter of the company’s fiscal 2009 ended April 30.

ConAgra Foods (CAG) owns an eclectic mix of businesses including Chef Boyardee canned pasta, Orville Redenbacher’s popcorn and Slim Jim meat . . . things. The company recently sold its commodity trading unit. Adjusted for the change, sales and profits are growing nicely. The stock ticker is the cheapest on the list at less than 12 times earnings and it comes with a 4.1% dividend yield.

H.J. Heinz (HNZ) sells plenty of ketchup to restaurants, so it’s not seeing quite the same benefit as other food companies from consumers eating at home. Also, some shoppers are trading down to store-brand ketchup. Sales in the company’s most recent quarter slid 6%. Management says it plans to trim costs and spend some of the savings on more marketing, while avoiding price cuts, in an effort to regain market share while keeping profits plump. If the plan works quickly, the stock ticker price will surely benefit, and if it doesn’t investors still collect the biggest yield on the list: 4.7%.

Have a look if you like at details on these three and two more companies on the list below.

Screen Survivors
Company Ticker Share
Price
Sales Growth
Most Recent
Quarter (%)
2009
P/E
Dividend
Yield
(%)
Data as of July 7, 2009
Source: Thomson Reuters
H.J. Heinz HNZ $35.83 -5.60 13.4 4.7
McCormick & Company MKC 32.59 -0.89 14.1 2.9
General Mills GIS 59.89 3.87 14.0 3.1
Conagra Foods CAG 18.98 7.55 11.5 4.0
The J.M. Smucker Company SJM 48.23 81.11 13.0 2.9

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