CF Industries: An Alternative to Jim Cramer's 2 Agriculture Picks

| About: CF Industries (CF)
This article is now exclusive for PRO subscribers.

Something’s happened to Jim Cramer. He’s actually starting to make sense. I can’t say I like him co-anchoring the CNBC morning programs (Dear CNBC, Cramer’s too wired for mornings!), but his Mad Money advice has become noticeably more measured and thoughtful in the last year or so.

I’m guessing it has to do with his relentless bullishness during the 2008 financial crisis and the viewer hate mail he no doubt received afterwards. There’s a time for optimism and a time for caution so thank you Mr. Cramer for recognizing that sometimes rallies are meant to be sold.

On Tuesday’s Mad Money, Cramer laid out a number of long-term investment themes with corresponding stock picks. While veering slightly into the Mad Max territory usually reserved for doomers, here again he shows a new pragmatism about the challenges we face both domestically and globally. Food shortages, energy shortages, homeland security, healthy eating, and gold.

Addressing the first theme of food shortages, Cramer recommends Deere (NYSE:DE) and Potash (POT). I’d like to respectfully disagree and instead suggest North America’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producer, CF Industries (NYSE:CF). Here’s why:

Canada’s Potash Corp is the world’s largest independent potash producer and there’s no disputing its strong position in the global agriculture market. However, the stock is currently trading 15% off its 52 week high and may have put in a double top near $64. Equipment maker Deere, while also a force to be reckoned with, is trading more than 25% off its highs.

CF Industries on the other hand has continued to make new highs throughout the recent pullback and is trending strongly above its 20, 50 and 200 day moving averages. Reporting a strong outlook, the company delivered a significant earnings beat in the recent quarter and quadrupled its dividend.

Price action isn’t everything of course. A value investor might say now is the time to start accumulating POT and DE on the cheap. But there’s an important metric that makes CF Industries stand out from the pack and that’s free cash flow. Especially important for cyclical businesses, strong cash flows allow management to ride out the inevitable booms and busts inherent to their industries. Potash currently enjoys a 1.9% free cash flow yield. Deere’s cash flow is negative for the trailing twelve months but historically offers a 2-3% FCF yield. CF Industries currently offers a whopping 13.8% FCF yield.

Valuation ratios and yields reflect a certain price level, a specific moment in time, and can easily be distorted by unsustainable surges in earnings. Certainly CF is having a blowout year thanks in part to the acquisition of Terra Industries and I must acknowledge that earnings declined precipitously in 2009-10 but free cash flows have remained strong year after year.

Management is not just sitting on this cash either. In addition to returning more money to shareholders via the increased dividend, the company has announced a plan to deploy $1.5 billion in capital on projects devoted to eliminating bottlenecks, expanding production and upgrading capacity.

CF Industries is my number one pick in the booming agriculture space. Reinvest those dividends and enjoy the ride.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a long position in CF over the next 72 hours.