Beyond Meat’s slump shows investors are hungry for more than growth
Beyond Meat Inc. shares reversed earlier gains and fell despite revenue that blew past analyst estimates — a sign investors may be looking for more than rapid sales growth from the faux meat maker.
The El Segundo company’s fourth-quarter sales of $98.5 million exceeded the highest analyst projection and helped push full-year revenue beyond expectations to $297.9 million. Beyond Meat forecast 2020 sales of $490 million to $510 million, also beating the average analyst estimate.
Chief Executive Ethan Brown said the company is “only scratching the surface” of the U.S. restaurant market, but investors may be impatient for a bigger deal with a major player such as McDonald’s Corp. Beyond Meat is in about 4% of the 650,000 U.S. restaurants, Brown said, referring to the low number as an opportunity for rapid growth.
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Competition is also rapidly intensifying as big-food players catch up with faux meat products of their own, although Brown said Beyond Meat cut prices less than had been expected with all the new entrants. Still, Wall Street may be pricing in slower gains after the rapid share gains of the last year.
The stock also has attracted investors who are betting on a decline: Shares on loan to short sellers make up 25% of the stock’s float, according to data from financial analytics firm S3 Partners.
Beyond Meat, known for its volatility since its IPO last year, fell as much as 13% on Thursday after an initial gain in late trading. The stock closed down $6.37, or 5.6%, at $106.14. They had rallied more than 40% this year.
The company’s forecast that adjusted EBITDA — earnings excluding items such as interest and depreciation — will remain a similar percentage of revenue in 2020 from last year may have disappointed investors, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Jennifer Bartashus said.
“I think people were looking for a bit more than that,” she said.
EBITDA was 8.5% of revenue in 2019, according to the company’s statement.
The stock decline may also be a result of disappointment with the company’s decision to accelerate investments to grow the business, Bartashus said.
“But at the end of the day, this is a growth company, so volatility is part of the game,” she said.
Beyond Meat, along with rival Impossible Foods Inc., also can’t ignore growing doubts about China — a key growth market — amid the coronavirus outbreak. The virus has slowed Beyond Meat’s plans to start producing in China, Brown said, but it still expects to have production up and running in Asia this year.
“The concern is more around reaction to it than the actual virus,” Brown said. “The rate at which it’s actually causing people to die is not significant relative to other things out there, so I think we need to put it in perspective.”
Beyond Meat has continued to strike new or expanded alliances with big restaurant companies. Starbucks Corp. said Wednesday it will start selling a Beyond Meat-branded sausage item in Canada, after a January announcement that McDonald’s and Beyond Meat were expanding their partnership there.
Although its research-and-development spending did not keep pace with its revenue growth, innovation remains core to the business, Brown said. Beyond Meat is planning product launches in food service and retail, while work on bacon and steak alternatives continues, he said.
The company expects to bring down prices as it tries to achieve price parity with meat, executives said on a call discussing earnings.
The company also said Seth Goldman would resign as executive chairman but would remain chairman of the board. It wasn’t immediately clear how Goldman’s role and responsibilities would change.
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