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The Wall Street Journal featured an article on Thursday entitled, "Campbell Soup Yet to Bowl Over Investors." The author insists that, despite Campbell Soup Company's (NYSE:CPB - 39.19) muted profits in recent years, investors may find the company's rising price/earnings ratio an appetizing opportunity. The writer also touches upon the stock's impressive start to the new year, highlighting yesterday's acquisition-related pop, in which CPB enjoyed a halo lift on reports that Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE:BRK.A) is acquiring sector peer H.J. Heinz Company (NYSE:HNZ).
Fundamentally, the company's iconic products have proven "particularly resilient in uncertain economic times. Both generate oodles of free cash flow relative to their earnings and might benefit, at the margin, from greater scale as they compete for supermarket shelf space." With the stars seemingly aligning, the journalist implores us all to, "Look out for more moves by Campbell to soup up its share price."
CPB has been charting a path of higher highs and higher lows throughout 2013, and year-to-date, the stock has added 12.8%. As mentioned, Thursday's sector-related M&A news sent shares of CPB up 1.4%. This positive price action is continuing in today's session, with the equity tacking on 1.5% after this morning's earnings report showed CPB's fiscal second-quarter results arrived better than expected. Additionally, the soup stalwart announced the closing of one of its Mexican-based plants as a means of restructuring operations in the region.
Despite this formidable technical showing, option traders have expressed low expectations for CPB. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), traders have bought to open 3,894 puts, compared to 1,266 calls, throughout the past 10 sessions. The resultant put/call volume ratio of 3.08 ranks higher than 82% of other such readings taken in the past year, indicating a healthier-than-usual appetite for bearish bets over bullish in recent weeks.
This pessimistically skewed stance is echoed in the stock's rising Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR). Since Jan. 22, CPB's SOIR has risen to 0.74 from 0.30, as near-term put open interest jumped 272%. This ratio is now ranked in the 95th percentile of its annual range, suggesting short-term speculators have been more put-heavy just 5% of the time within the last year.
This skepticism is evident outside of the options pits as well, where short interest accounts for 8.8% of the stock's available float. It would take nearly 12 sessions to cover these shorted shares, at the equity's average daily pace of trading. Additionally, 16 out of 17 analysts have smacked the stock with a "hold" or worse rating, and the consensus 12-month price target of $36.14 represents a discount to CPB's current perch.
From a contrarian perspective, such excessive pessimism surrounding a stock that's moving its way up the charts could have bullish implications in the near term. Going forward, a round of upgrades and/or price-target hikes from the wary brokerage bunch could translate into a fresh wave of buying power, as some of the weaker bearish hands begin to jump ship.