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  Robert Moskow '96

Alumni Profile: Robert Moskow '96

Brain food

Food and agribusiness analyst Robert Moskow '96 studies companies that sustain us

By Aubrey Henretty

When Robert Moskow '96 enrolled in the Kellogg Full-Time MBA Program, he was looking for an experience that would help shape his career. He had consulted for some of the nation's premier packaged-foods companies, including Kraft and Oscar Mayer. But he wanted to channel his interest in the food industry into something enduring and satisfying.

"I really enjoyed the analytical and the strategic side of companies more than the execution," says Moskow. "I wanted to be in a place where I could spend all day doing research and finding out what makes companies tick."

Following post-Kellogg stints in marketing for Warner Lambert and Godiva Chocolatier, Moskow found just such a place in Credit Suisse Securities LLC. As the firm's lead food and agribusiness stock analyst, Moskow now spends his days publishing research on 22 top companies.

Agriculture is big business in the United States, but Moskow points out that Americans are spending less on food than they have at any time in history. "Food as a percentage of income in the United States has actually declined," he says. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, the average household spent 18.1 percent of its income on food in 1956. By 2006, that figure had dropped to 9.9 percent. "One of the qualities of a developed Western nation is that citizens spend less and less time worrying about, 'How am I going to eat today?'"

If average citizens are spending less time thinking about how food gets from the fields to their plates, agribusiness analysts like Moskow are picking up the slack.

"You have to have a thesis about where the world is going," he says. "Then you start thinking about the value chain." An analyst might be interested in how rising grain prices will influence the decisions of chicken farmers and how their actions will reverberate throughout the market. For larger questions, including the effect of global climate change on the world's food supply, Moskow thinks the companies he studies will need to remain agile and resourceful. "If you've got an area that's going to become rainier, well, sometimes more rain is a good thing," he says. "Food companies need to think about which parts of the world have the highest potential for productivity and demand growth, then develop their asset footprints accordingly."

Other big questions surrounding agribusiness concern the increased demand for biofuels and the booming economies in large Asian nations. As countries like China get wealthier and consume more meat (and more food in general), they will need more grain to sustain themselves, says Moskow. If this increased demand coincides with a major U.S. public-policy shift toward biofuels, demand for certain grains may outpace supply.

While the United States may be able to afford a biofuel-related increase in the price of its food, other nations may not. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, Chinese households spend roughly 28 percent of their income on food, Moskow says. A sharp increase in food prices would thus be more difficult for the Chinese economy to absorb and may lead China to substantially increase imports.

Looking forward, says the Kellogg graduate, "The biggest challenge for agribusiness is going to be: How can they pass along the inevitable rising costs of these soft commodities to the end user and how can they use this dynamic to enhance their profitability?"

Moskow says his Kellogg education helps him create frameworks that assess the complexities of agribusiness and predict how industry leaders may respond. Kellogg is a presence in Moskow's family too: His wife, Holly, is a 1996 graduate and his father, Michael, is a member of the Dean's Advisory Board (and also recently retired as president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago).

"I use what I learned at Kellogg to study industry dynamics," he says. "Having an academic background in industry analysis is probably the most important thing when you're analyzing stocks. What you learn in management and strategy classes at Kellogg is very useful."

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