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Why Hold Strategy is Apt for International Paper (IP) Stock Now

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International Paper Company (IP - Free Report) is gaining from solid demand for corrugated and containerboard packaging, fluff pulp and growth in e-commerce. Benefits from price realization across the company’s segments and the expected contribution from Building a Better IP initiatives will offset higher costs and support margins.

Positive Earnings Surprise History: International Paper, a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold) company, has a trailing four-quarter earnings surprise of 7.3%, on average.

Positive Growth Projections: The company’s earnings estimate for the current year stands at $4.76, suggesting year-over-year growth of 48.7%.

Strong Financial Position: The company's efforts to reduce its debt levels appear encouraging. International Paper’s total debt has gone down from $11 billion at the end of 2016 to $5.6 billion as of the end of 2021. The company’s total debt to capital ratio has declined considerably in the past few years and stood at 0.38 as of Mar 31, 2022. Its times-interest-earned ratio was 4.4. The company has limited near-term maturities, with about $900 million due over the next five years.

Growth Drivers

Benefits of strong price realization from price hikes are aiding International Paper counter higher input and energy, chemical and distribution costs. This will help the company support margins in the upcoming quarters. The company expects its segments’ margins to expand in the second quarter, with further expansion in the second half of the year as price realization outpaces higher input costs. The company completed the highest maintenance outage quarter of the year, expecting to achieve 70% of its planned maintenance in the first half of the year.

IP is committed to delivering a net $350-$400 million in incremental earnings by the end of 2024. These include around $300 million in cost-reduction initiatives and $50 million through commercial and investment initiatives.

International Paper projects EBITDA to be $3.1-$3.4 billion in 2022 compared with $2.6 billion in 2021. The company achieved $40 million of earnings through Building a Better IP initiatives in the first quarter of 2022 and is on track to meet the gross incremental earnings target of $200-$225 million in 2022.

IP continues to witness strong demand for corrugated and containerboard packaging in its Industrial Packaging segment as it plays a critical role in the supply chain in bringing essential products to consumers. Its e-commerce demand remains strong. A favorable supply-demand backdrop for fluff pulp is boosting the Global cellulose fibers segment.

Last October, International Paper completed its spin-off of the Printing Papers segment into a standalone, publicly-traded company, Sylvamo (SLVM - Free Report) . IP received a $1.4-billion payment from Sylvamo. The company retained up to 19.9% of the shares of the new company. In first-quarter 2022, the company monetized about half of its investment with proceeds of $144 million, which reduces the company’s ownership interest to about 10.5%. This spin-off will enable International Paper to focus on its Industrial Packaging segment and capitalize on the growing demand for corrugated packaging, cut costs and improve earnings. This also supports the company’s aim to streamline and simplify its organization to form a packaging-focused company.

International Paper expects continued elevated costs for chemicals, energy and distribution in the second quarter of 2022. Significant rail, truck and ocean transportation congestion due to challenging transportation conditions will continue in the near term.

Price Performance

International Paper’s shares have lost 6.4% in the past six months compared with the industry’s decline of 10.3%.

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Stocks to Consider

Some better-ranked stocks in the basic materials space are Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI - Free Report) and Nutrien Ltd. (NTR - Free Report) , each flaunt a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy), at present. You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

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.

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.

In-Depth Zacks Research for the Tickers Above

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ATI Inc. (ATI) - free report >>

International Paper Company (IP) - free report >>

Nutrien Ltd. (NTR) - free report >>

Sylvamo Corporation (SLVM) - free report >>