WestRock Company ( WRK Quick Quote WRK - Free Report) is poised to gain from continued strength in packaging demand, price-increase actions and strong growth in e-commerce. Sustainable fiber-based packaging solutions, significant demand in food, foodservice and beverage packaging categories and improved box shipment will continue to drive growth. Factors Favoring WestRock Positive Earnings Surprise History: WestRock, a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) stock, has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 7.5%, on average. Price Performance: WestRock’s shares have gained 9% in the past six months compared with the industry’s growth of 1.6%. Image Source: Zacks Investment Research
Estimates Northbound: Current year figures look promising, with five estimates moving higher in the past one month compared to one downward revision. Earnings estimates for fiscal 2022 have gone up 6.5% in the past 30 days. Healthy Growth Projections: The company’s earnings estimate for fiscal 2022 is pegged at $5.11, suggesting year-over-year growth of around 50.7%. The company has a long-term estimated earnings growth of 17.8%. Upbeat View: For the third quarter of fiscal 2022, WestRock expects adjusted earnings per share (EPS) in the range of $1.36-$1.54. The mid-point of the guidance indicates a rise of 24% from the adjusted earnings per share of $1.17 in second-quarter fiscal 2022. Adjusted segment EBITDA for the quarter is anticipated to be between $930 million and $990 million. The mid-point of the range indicates sequential growth of 12%. Strong Financials: WestRock’s total debt was $8.4 billion as of the end of second-quarter fiscal 2022. The company’s net leverage ratio is at 2.34, nearing its long-term targeted range of 1.75-2.25. In the second quarter of fiscal 2022, the company generated $213 million of adjusted free cash flow, up significantly from the previous year's levels. For fiscal 2022, WRK expects a free cash flow of more than $1.3 billion.
Growth Drivers in Place
WestRock’s corrugated packaging business is poised to gain from improved box shipment and increased demand from distribution, industrial and agricultural customers as the economy recovers from the pandemic. E-commerce demand remains strong across all channels and momentum will continue owing to the coronavirus pandemic. The consumer packaging business is gaining from sustainable fiber-based paper and packaging solutions and demand in food and beverage packaging categories. Strong demand for paper products in domestic and export markets is driving WRK’s paper business. The company’s overall packaging business will gain from solid demand and the implementation of previously announced containerboard and boxboard price increases.
WestRock continues to invest in the business, including strategic capital projects with attractive returns and targeted mergers and acquisitions. It has been witnessing healthy demand for containerboard and corrugated packaging in the Brazilian market and is well poised to capitalize on this growth with the ramp-up of the Tres Barras mill in the region. The company will reap the benefits of strategic capital projects in its mill and converting systems to improve the overall cost structure. These investments will enhance WestRock’s packaging capabilities in its served markets while reducing exposures to export containerboard and low-margin Specialty solid bleached sulfate businesses. As part of the portfolio-optimization effort, WestRock announced closing its containerboard and pulp mill in Panama City. The move will save capital investment required to operate the mill, which now can be deployed in high-return growth areas. Also, WestRock is reducing exposure to the fluff pulp to focus more on higher-value markets.
However, higher freight, wage, chemicals and planned maintenance costs will continue to impact its margins in fiscal 2022. Meanwhile, labor shortages and supply chain issues might disrupt production, impairing the company’s ability to meet the high demand.
Stocks to Consider
Some better-ranked stocks in the basic materials space are
Allegheny Technologies Inc. ( ATI Quick Quote ATI - Free Report) , Nutrien Ltd. ( NTR Quick Quote NTR - Free Report) and Albemarle Corporation ( ALB Quick Quote ALB - Free Report) . Allegheny has a projected earnings growth rate of 869.2% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for ATI's current-year earnings has been revised 27.3% upward in the past 60 days. Allegheny’s earnings beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate in each of the last four quarters. It has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of roughly 128.9%, on average. ATI has gained around 15.6% in a year and currently sports a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here. Nutrien has a projected earnings growth rate of 163.2% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for NTR’s current-year earnings has been revised 27.5% upward in the past 60 days. Nutrien’s earnings beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate in three of the trailing four quarters, the average being 5.8%. NTR has gained 42.9% in a year. The company flaunts a Zacks Rank #1. Albemarle has a projected earnings growth rate of 203.7% for the current year. The Zacks Consensus Estimate for ALB’s current-year earnings has been revised 100.4% upward in the past 60 days. Albemarle’s earnings beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate in each of the trailing four quarters, the average being 22.5%. ALB has gained 46.5% in a year. The company flaunts a Zacks Rank #1.