Why I Bought A Few Shares in Tupperware Company

A Quality Product. But Shareholders Should be Wary of the Debt Level

Published on:
August 31, 2018
Written on:

About The Author

Noam Ganel, CFA is the founder of Pen&Paper, a value-oriented, contrary-minded journal of the financial markets. Noam worked as a Vice President in Capital Markets at Silvergate (publicly traded on NYSE under SI since Nov-2019.) At SI, which he joined in 2010, Noam was responsible for advisory services to family offices,  private companies, and financial advisors.

My best friend’s house went up in flames. The fire was the result of malfunction in the oven. Fortunately no one was hurt. That is except for the 2,800 square foot home that smelled like a barbecue sauce for two years after the incident.

When the insurance agent arrived to assess the damage from the fire, the first item my best friend’s mom reported on was her Tupperware. She later mentioned to me that it took a long time to convince the insurance agent that she had owned so many Tupperware items.

My best friend’s mom is a wonderful cook and has a remarkable taste for quality. I used to spend many Shabbat dinners at her meticulously clean and well-organized home, admiring her sense of style. 

In contrast at my home we didn’t buy Tupperware items. My mom, a corporate attorney felt that cooking was a huge waste of time. “You cook for hours and the feeling lasts for less than twenty minutes,” she would lament.

My Dad who is an orthopedic surgeon, could never understand why one would spend money on Tupperware. There were practically free alternatives out there, he would say.

So, with one side indifferent about cooking in general and the other thrifty about its preparation, we would use the free, plastic containers from takeaway orders.

The alternatives to Tupperware

Known for being somewhat of a cheapskate myself, when I left my parent's house and started to live on my own, I bought box containers that I found at the local Vons store. I was lured by a promotional of “10 containers for the price of 2.”

But I am not rich enough to be as cheap as I am. And none of the containers lasted more than a few months. One set of containers for example, had permanently turned red because I used it to store pasta with red sauce.

Another set of containers never sealed propertly. Frustrated by the ordeal, I finally succumbed and purchased a Tupperware container in 2009. I bought a green, mid-size Tupperware Impression Classic Bowl for what seemed at the time an outrageous price of $19.

My original Tupperware
My Tuppeware

I couldn't see any difference between Tupperware and any of the containers I had bought for $2, but I reminded myself that if my friend's mom was using the product, there had to be a reason. 

Evidently she was right. That container has now served me for a decade. I use it just about every week and its lid seals the container as good as it did the first day.

A letter to Tupperware

Dear management of Tupperware, I could not believe that your ticker symbol appeared on the list of stocks that traded at a 52-week low. It is known by many investors that Tupperware is a company that is selling a $20 product that costs $2 to make. That Tupperware generates plenty of cash flow; that it has a remarkable method to sell its products through home parties, and that the company needs to invest very little capital expenditure to maintain its operations.

I also didn’t mind the 2017 operating results you reported on. To me, the reported loss of $265 million or $5.22 per share did not make any sense. As a matter of fact, if it wasn't for the accounting-related shenanigans, I believe you earned about $197 million or $3.8 per share.

TUP's earnings per share over past decade
TUP's earnings per share over past decade

Not only am I not disappointed with your operating results in 2017 but I applaud you for continuing to pay out dividends. In 2012 you paid $77.6 million in dividends; in 2015 you paid $138 million in dividends; and in 2017, even with all your trials and tribulations, you distributed $139.5 million in dividends. That is praiseworthy.

You probably don't know this dear management, but I did not purchase your company’s common stocks based on the expected dividend yield. To me, if you can think of ways how to use those retained earnings that would be even better. But I was pleasantly surprised to see an expected 7% dividend yield on my cost basis of $36 per share.

And now that I am a shareholder (I bought 600 shares of your stock), after I voted with my own money about the prospects of your company, I think it is only fair to let you know that I do worry about the debt.

TUP's leverage ratio is up
TUP's leverage ratio is up

Now, I know what you are going to say. That your earnings before taxes to interest ratio is above 7 times. And that coverage has not changed since 2012. I know that you are also likely to say that your assets are understated as the land you own in Orlando is worth much more than the reported book value.

But no matter the reason and justification, we both know that your current leverage is penalizing the stock price. In 2017 you reported on $1,388 million in assets and a whopping $1,507 million in liabilities. We also know that many investors will not take the time to read your notes about the goodwill impairment and the tax expense related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.

Dear management, you have a good product. Don't let debt ruin your future.   

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