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The slightly improving economic picture means that while people won't be out buying cars, they will be buying more goods for entertaining and relaxing, and that's good for packaging firms, observes Hilary Kramer of GameChangers.

Graham Packaging (GRM), which develops plastic containers for consumer products, launched an IPO early last year. But investors were not impressed with GRM stock.

Graham Packaging priced the deal at $10 a share, which was well below the $14 to $16 price range. And then newly-minted GRM stock treaded water.

Well, things certainly perked up this year. In April, Graham received a buyout offer from Silgan (SLGN). Then, in the past few weeks, New Zealand’s Rank Group joined the fray, making its own bid for GRM stock. Shares of GRM are now trading above $25.

Yes, you don’t have to play high-fliers like LinkedIn (LNKD) to make money on IPOs.

However, is this Graham Packaging transaction an isolated event, or a start of a new trend in the packaging industry? I think it’s the latter.

Keep in mind that the packaging industry tends to outperform when the economy is shaky. No doubt, the recent reports show that the US has hit a “soft patch.” Essentially, packaging has the advantage of being focused on the food and beverage industries, which tend to have stable demand profiles.

Another driving force will be acquisitions. Such deals often allow for substantial cost savings, which can help boost margins.

So what are some packaging stocks to consider? Here’s a look at four…

MeadWestvaco (MWV)
This is a global packaging powerhouse. However, much of its manufacturing footprint is in the US.

MeadWestvaco has a large consumer business, with mega customers like Proctor & Gamble (PG). The segment provides a nice source of recurring revenues. But the company also has business in other areas like chemicals, office products, and health care.
Interestingly enough, MeadWestvaco also has massive land holdings, which is a nice source of cash. At the same time, the company has an overfunded pension. This is definitely rare in the manufacturing world.

Crown (CCK)
The company is the dominant manufacturer of metal packaging, such as for aerosol and beverage cans. It is a global operation, with an extensive footprint in Europe as well as emerging markets.

The customer base includes some of the world’s largest consumer companies, such as Pepsi (PEP) and Coca-Cola (KO).

Moreover, with its large footprint in emerging markets, Crown is actually a growth story. This should provide a nice boost to the company’s earnings power.

Crown has also been savvy by using long-term supplier contracts. This has helped to provide lower costs for raw materials, like aluminum.

Graphic Packaging (GPK)
This is a top provider of paperboard packaging for food and beverage products. The company has leading positions in coated-recycled boxboard and specialty-bag packaging.

In the latest quarter, Graphic Packaging posted a 0.3% decline in sales. But the company was able to increase its pricing to deal with the lower volumes. What’s more, income from operations increased by 15.1% to $68.6 million.

There has been a drag on operations because of the negative weather. But this should be a temporary thing, and volumes should improve in the coming quarters.

Greif (GEF): The company develops a wide assortment of packaging products like steel containers and containerboard. There are also services for blending and filling.

Based on the latest quarterly results, Greif has returned to its peak levels for revenue and EBITDA. Then again, the company has a proprietary management approach—called the Greif Business System—which has been helpful in generating cost savings and efficiencies.

The company has also been aggressive with acquisitions. For example, it struck 12 deals last year.

Yet in light of Greif’s strong platform and growth prospects, it would not be surprising that it becomes a target for a buyout.

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Tickers Mentioned: Tickers: MWV, CCK, GPK, GEF

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