Metro Inc. (TSE: MRU.A) – Better Shop Around, The Bargains Here Are Over.

Here’s a quick little trade idea for you: sell, short or buy puts on Metro Inc. (TSE: MRU.A). Metro Inc. is the operator of A&P, Food Basics, Metro and Loeb grocery stores in Ontario and Quebec. It’s not that I think being in the consumer staples sector is a bad thing in this environment, but this is a stock that has been a high flyer over the last year and I think it’s time for it to come back down to the market’s miserable reality.

Metro purchased the A&P/Dominion stores in Canada back in 2005 and have spent the last few years integrating them into their Metro brand. 2008 was the year they reaped the rewards, and the stock price soared. In 2008, while the rest of the market was plummeting, MRU.A advanced over 90% making it one of the best performing stocks of the year.img2

But is there any reason for this outperformance to last? Sure, grocery stores are essentially recession proof – people always need to eat – but Metro stores are branded as the premium grocers and their products sell at premium prices when compared to other major grocers like Loblaw and Wal-Mart. It’s not exactly the market segment you want to be aiming for in a recession like this when frugal spending and saving money have are in vogue.

A lot of Metro’s success over the last year has come at the expense of Loblaw. The chart below shows the relative performance of the two stocks (along with the TSX Index) since the beginning of 2008.

MRU+-+relative+performance

As you can see, Metro is the clear winner. So while safety stocks like consumer staples are what you want to own in this environment, Metro’s stock has simply gotten too far ahead of both the market and its peers.

From a technical perspective, the chart looks like it could be to be forming a double-top pattern (check out my colleague’s Double Top and Double Bottom Chart Patterns article for an more information). In addition, the stock has now begun to seriously test its 50-day moving average, which it has been trading well above for the last 3 months. I think it’s entirely possible that the stock may even head lower to test its 200-day moving average.

MRU+-+stock+chart

MRU+-+moving+averages

Even the insider’s believe the stock has gotten ahead of itself. À recent insider trading report shows that 10 different members of management have exercised their stock options and sold their shares. From the report it appears that beginning in January 65,900 shares in total (roughly $2.5 million) have been sold. Insider trading doesn’t necessarily mean the stock is heading lower, but it certainly doesn’t make a strong argument for it to be heading higher.

Owning a premium grocery retailer that has significantly outperformed its closest competitors and the market in a recession like this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. Add the fact that the chart maybe forming the dreaded double top pattern and some insider selling and you’ve got yourself a reason to sell.