Empire: For Canadian Shoppers

02/16/2016 10:00 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Gavin Graham

Chief Strategy Officer, INTEGRIS Pension Management Ltd

No stock is completely safe when markets sell-off but some are more resilient than others. One that falls into this category is our latest recommendation, the second largest grocery chain in Canada, suggests Gavin Graham in Internet Wealth Builder.  

Empire Company Limited (TSX: EMP.A), based in Nova Scotia, has 1,800 stores selling food, pharmacy products, liquor, and fuel.

Empire's food chains include Sobey's, IGA, Foodland, and Thrifty Foods. It also owns 200 Safeway stores, which it bought for $5.8 billion in late 2013.

Its pharmacy business consists of 348 in-store pharmacies and 79 Lawton’s drug stores. As well, it owns 350 retail fuel stations.

As a bonus, it retains a 41.5% stake in retail oriented Crombie REIT (TSX: CRR.UN), which owns 254 properties and also happens to be a recommendation of ours.

Empire has grown consistently over the last decade, with sales almost doubling to $29.3 billion in the 2015 fiscal year.

Sobey's has taken the lead in emphasizing fresh and locally produced food;
in 2013 it partnered with celebrity chefs—such as Jamie Oliver—who stress fresh ingredients and better eating habits.

It has also developed its Freschco discount store concept and launched the Chalo! brand with a focus on Asian communities.

Empire's share price has suffered in the last six months, down over 20%. One of the reasons is that it has experienced problems integrating the Safeway acquisition, by far the largest it has undertaken.

Despite that, analysts' forecasts for the 2016 fiscal year are for adjusted earnings per share of $1.76, leaving Empire at a p/e of 14.5 times, its lowest in more than five years.

Empire is conservatively financed, able to make further acquisitions, and provides a 1.6% yield while selling at a reasonable valuation.

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