Investors looking to profit from commodities outside of the money-losing mining and oil and gas sectors are eyeing pulse and grain provider AGT Food and Ingredients Inc.
Shares of the Regina-based staple food processor and exporter, known until October as Alliance Grain Traders Inc., have risen about 50 per cent over the past year and doubled since early 2013 as the company diversifies into food processing and packaging.
AGT is the one of the world's largest processors and splitters of crops such as lentils and peas, with exports to more than 100 countries around the world, mostly in the Middle East, North Africa and Europe.
The company is aggressively expanding its business to include the processing of pulse-based flour and pasta, taking advantage of the gluten-free craze and the food industry's move away from genetically modified corn and soy products.
Analysts are salivating over the stock. Among the seven that cover the company, six have a "buy" or equivalent rating, while one says "hold," according to Bloomberg. The consensus price target is $32.21, about 20 per cent above where the stock is now trading, around $27.
"It's a great Canadian story," said Raymond James analyst Steve Hansen, who has an "outperform" on the stock (similar to "buy") and $31 target. "They are really leveraging off of the existing business … into some higher value-added products with higher, more consistent margins."
AGT has staged a major turnaround over the past two years. The shares traded around $35 in 2010, before steadily falling to around $12 in 2012-2013. The company's troubles started with the collapse of its Canadian pulse crop in 2010, due to extremely wet weather, alongside growing supply from other countries.
Its business was then hurt by unrest during the Arab Spring, which affected key markets in the Middle East, as well as falling currencies in emerging markets.
Since then, the company has diversified geographically, expanding its product source beyond Canada to farms across North America, Turkey, Australia, China and South Africa. It's also mixing up its products to include foods such as pasta, rice and milled wheat products. Last year it expanded into canning and packaging after buying ethnic food retailer and distributor CLIC International Inc. of Quebec.
"It has been a very difficult six years to be a public company," said AGT chief executive Murad Al-Katib, who started the business in his basement 13 years ago and took it public in 2007.
While lentils are still a major part of the business, he said the company is more balanced today.
"No one geography should be catastrophic for this company going forward," he said.
Mr. Al-Katib said a big part of AGT's growth will come from its food ingredients division, catering to new markets for legume-based flours and protein for fibre, and the food-packaging segment, which together today account for about a quarter of revenues and a third of earnings.
AGT raised $80-million in a bought deal late last year, a portion of which will be put toward the expansion of its food ingredient production facility in North Dakota.
CIBC World Markets analyst Jacob Bout has a "sector outperformer" (similar to "buy") on the stock and $32 target, citing the expansion as well as higher lentil prices and strong exports driven by production issues in countries such as India and Turkey.
Some analysts are more cautious on AGT given its recent stock market ascent.
Scotia Capital analyst Christine Healy has a "sector perform" (similar to "hold") and target of $27.50.
"AGT's shares have risen materially in recent months, and we believe already largely reflect an improved earnings outlook," she said in a note.