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Are Shire plc, SABMiller PLC And Imperial Tobacco Group plc Set To Drop Like A Stone?

I do not dislike Shire (LSE: SHP), SABMiller (LSE: SAB) and Imperial Tobacco (LSE: IMT), but how much risk do these three defensive businesses carry right now? 

Aside from fundamentals, let’s focus on how they have performed since takeover talk — or just takeover rumours — emerged in the last 12 months.

M&A Premium 

M&A stands for mergers and acquisitions. When deal talk springs back to life, the valuation of takeover candidates, or M&A candidates, receives a big boost but also tends to become more volatile. 

That’s been the case for Shire, SABMiller and Imperial Tobacco since early 2014, which doesn’t mean they are not investable now: in fact, there are several reasons why they may well deserve your attention. 

Shire, in particular, offers plenty of upside, in my view. 

Shire: Buy 

Shire traded around 3,500p in early 2014 before takeover rumours emerged. When takeover talk with AbbVie collapsed in mid-October, Shire essentially gave up most of its gains — and it plunged to about 3,700p. The group has grown ever since by acquiring assets, and has also shown it can grow earnings at a fast pace.

Its quarterly results were released on Thursday: they were good, although guidance was unchanged, and the shares have risen less than 1% since. 

First-quarter revenues were broadly in line with expectations (up more than 10% year on year), but earnings per share surged 20%, as Shire confirms to be a very efficient machine with regard to capital allocation and costs. 

Based on fundamentals, comparable quarterly figures for the upcoming quarters, trading multiples, new product launches and a few other variables, my suggested price target to the end of the year is 6,000p for an implied upside of 13%, which would yield an annual performance of +30%. 

SABMiller: Hold 

SAB reported a trading update a couple of weeks ago, which made for a decent reading.

Its market valuation has hovered around the 3,100p-3,700p range over the last 16 months, and it clearly benefited from takeover speculation most of the times it got closer to the low end of that range.

I doubt a deal with Anheuser Busch Inbev, its most likely suitor, is around the corner, although such an outcome may be inevitable over the long run. 

SAB currently trades at 3,460p, which is slightly higher than fair value (at 3,240p, according to my estimates) in spite of appealing trading multiples, strong fundamentals, solid cash flow prospects and decent income/balance sheet metrics.

In order to boost its own valuation, SAB’s growth rate must accelerate and that isn’t a very easy thing to do.

Signs of better growth prospects in the fourth quarter were encouraging, but depreciation of key currencies against the US dollar may continue to adversely impact its performance. It trades about 8% below consensus estimates from analysts, and its forward yield is in the region of 2%. 

Imperial Tobacco: Hold

Imperial reports quarterly figures on 6 May. I don’t expect any big surprise from the announcement also in the wake of British American Tobacco‘s recent results.  

Most of the gains that could be attributed to M&A talks in 2014 have vanished, I’d argue. The stock hit a low of 2,500p last fall, after a rally that was not based on fundamentals, essentially returning at a price that was line with its valuation at the beginning of the year. Its share price currently stands at 3,182p.

Since mid-October, the shares have appreciated by 27% as investors seems to have decided to bet on Imperial rather than on British American Tobacco, which has risen only 4% this year and has been outperformed by Imperial by almost 10 percentage points. 

Trading multiples clearly indicate that Imperial — whose 4.4% forward yield is higher than that of British American Tobacco — is still about 10% to 15% cheaper than its rival, which is a good enough reason to add its shares to your wish list. 

Imperial, Shire and SAB could offer a steady yield and market-beating capital gains, but you are willing to take a bit more risk, I suggest you'd rather consider a British rental solutions business that has been included in free research published by our Fool analysts.

Its stock is flat for the year, after a +90% performance since 2013 and pre-tax capital gains of about 190% a year on average since 2010. It looks like investors may have overreacted in recent times: its financials are sound, margins are decent, its stock offers some yield (1.2%), while its 2016 p/e multiple is not prohibitive at 14x. 

Several other equity opportunities that trade at reasonable multiples have been identified in our research, which is completely free for a limited amount of time, so click here right away to get your free copy!

Alessandro Pasetti has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.