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David Rolfe Comments on Mead Johnson

- By Holly LaFon

During the quarter, we liquidated our position in Mead Johnson (MJN) after we determined the growth and competitive positioning of the business would be challenged for the next several years. In addition, the Company reached an agreement to be acquired by the European CPG firm, Reckitt Benckiser. A substantial portion of Mead Johnson's growth in revenues and profits is derived from China, where a confluence of factors over the past few years have blunted the Company's competitive advantage. First, the barriers to entry for Mead's competition in China have fallen. While Mead has a well-established position in China's traditional distribution channels, the Country's emerging e-commerce channel has facilitated a booming "gray" market with Europe, where the Company has very little presence. Mead's competitors in Europe have a much stronger value proposition than Chinese-based competitors. Second, China has become much less hospitable from a competitive standpoint. The rules and regulations that the NDRC (National Development and Reform Commission) have erected to prevent gray market expansion were, ostensibly, put in place to protect businesses that directly invested in the country's local manufacturing and distribution--particularly to help raise quality and safety standards. While Mead has invested heavily in China, we think the returns from these investments will be much less attractive, now that the NDRC has failed to protect (and in some cases, actively undermined) those investments. Given our lack of conviction in the ability of the Company to post attractive, long-term, double-digit growth relative to a mediocre valuation, we decided it prudent to find a more attractive opportunity.

From David Rolfe (Trades, Portfolio)'s Wedgewood Partners first-quarter 2017 shareholder letter.
This article first appeared on GuruFocus.