ConAgra Foods Inc. (NYSE: CAG), one of North America’s leading food companies, today reported results for the fiscal 2014 third quarter ended Feb. 23, 2014. Diluted EPS from continuing operations was $0.58 as reported for the fiscal third quarter vs. $0.28 in the year-ago period. After adjusting for items impacting comparability, current-quarter diluted EPS of $0.62 was 13 percent above the comparable $0.55 earned in the year-ago period.
Gary Rodkin, ConAgra Foods’ chief executive officer, said, “We are on track with our EPS projections for the second half of this fiscal year. As we have previously discussed, there are operating challenges that have impacted segment performance and overall EPS growth, but we are encouraged by some pockets of strength. This quarter we posted good sales and market share performances for some of our consumer brands, good international growth for our potato operations, and continued improvement in the operations and organization for our private brands. The synergies expected from the former Ralcorp businesses are coming in slightly ahead of plans, and we continue to make good progress on SG&A efficiency initiatives. We reaffirm our full year fiscal 2014 EPS guidance, and remain confident in our long-term strategy and outlook.”
Consumer Foods Segment
Branded food items sold worldwide in retail channels
The Consumer Foods segment posted sales of approximately $1.9 billion and operating profit of $266 million, as reported. Sales declined, as expected, reflecting a 3 percent volume decrease and flat price/mix. The impact of foreign exchange negatively impacted segment sales by 1 percent.
- As previously discussed, some of the volume decline in the fiscal third quarter reflects business that occurred earlier than planned in the fiscal second quarter as part of holiday promotions and changes in customer inventory levels, thus a shift in timing.
- Brands posting sales growth for the quarter include Bertolli, Hebrew National, Reddi-wip, Ro*Tel, Slim Jim, Swiss Miss, Wolf and others. More brand details are in the Q&A document accompanying this release.
- As previously discussed, Healthy Choice, Orville Redenbacher’s and Chef Boyardee (which collectively have annual sales in excess of $1 billion) continue to face challenges and are posting substantial volume declines. The company has important product changes, in-store initiatives, and refinements to consumer communication under way, which are expected to gradually improve the volume and profit performance of these brands throughout fiscal 2015.
Operating profit of $266 million was 1 percent above year-ago amounts as reported. After adjusting for $4 million of net expense in the current quarter and $5 million of net expense in the year-ago period from items impacting comparability, current quarter operating profit of $270 million was in line with comparable year-ago amounts. While top-line challenges weighed on profitability, several factors favorably contributed to the quarter’s profit performance, including manageable inflation, supply chain productivity initiatives, lower incentive compensation, and a strong focus on other selling, general, and administrative (SG&A) related efficiencies. Advertising and consumer promotion costs declined $15 million year-over-year, reflecting a focus on efficiency.
Commercial Foods Segment
Specialty potato, seasonings, blends, flavors, milled grain, as well as consumer branded and private branded packaged food items and bakery products, sold to foodservice and commercial channels worldwide
Sales for the Commercial Foods segment were $1.5 billion, down slightly compared with $1.5 billion a year-ago (rounded) as reported. Current-quarter sales include some benefit from acquisitions, specifically legacy Ralcorp foodservice results, which had only 27 days of contribution in year-ago amounts because of the date of the acquisition. Segment operating profit was $163 million, 12 percent below year-ago amounts as reported. After adjusting for $17 million of net expense in the current quarter and $10 million of net expense in year-ago amounts from items impacting comparability, comparable current-quarter operating profit of $180 million declined 8 percent versus $196 million a year ago.
Lamb Weston potato products’ profits were below year-ago amounts, as expected, given that a major foodservice customer did not renew a sizeable amount of potato business toward the end of last fiscal year. Lamb Weston continues to expand business with other customers; margins are lower-than-planned because of the customer mix shift as well as weaker-than-planned potato crop quality. Lamb Weston is achieving good growth internationally despite the fact that some customers are facing short-term challenges in certain Asian markets. Flour milling sales decreased, reflecting the pass-through of lower wheat costs as well as lower volumes, while milling profits increased over year-ago amounts due to favorable mix and efficiencies. Overall segment profits also reflect lower incentive compensation expense.
Private brand food items sold in domestic markets
Sales for the Private Brands segment were $1.1 billion in the quarter, up more than $600 million over year-ago amounts. This increase reflects the acquisition of the Ralcorp businesses; sales from most of the former Ralcorp businesses are reported within this segment. Year-ago amounts include only 27 days of contribution from Ralcorp because of the date of the acquisition. Operating profit for this segment was $45 million as reported and $66 million adjusted for items impacting comparability; the increase over prior-year amounts reflects the acquisition.
As previously discussed, profitability for the Private Brands segment is below plan this fiscal year in part due to sales force and supply chain transition issues, as well as pricing actions implemented in response to competitive pressure. As part of improving connections with customers as the company works through those issues, and to remain competitive in the marketplace, the company has made deliberate pricing concessions to protect volumes; these concessions have negatively impacted margins. The margin pressures are expected to continue throughout the remainder of the fiscal year and have been reflected in the current EPS guidance. The company has made organizational, pricing, and customer service improvements that are expected to gradually improve performance over time.
The company continues to expect fiscal 2014 diluted EPS, adjusted for items impacting comparability, to be in the range of $2.22-$2.25. The company continues to expect operating cash flow of approximately $1.4 billion in fiscal 2014, and to repay approximately $550 million of debt before the end of the fiscal year. After repaying approximately $550 million of debt in fiscal 2014, this will amount to slightly more than $950 million of cumulative net debt repayment since the acquisition of Ralcorp.
Consistent with past practice, the company will communicate details on expectations for fiscal 2015 EPS performance with the fiscal 2014 year-end release; as previously disclosed, the company expects comparable EPS growth in fiscal 2015 at a rate lower than the original double-digit target.
The company’s long-term EPS growth rates, and multi-year synergy goals related to the Ralcorp acquisition, are unchanged from prior estimates. The company expects at least 10 percent annual comparable EPS growth in the fiscal 2016-2017 period, largely due to the benefit of Ralcorp-related synergies; the company continues to expect the Ralcorp transaction to generate $300 million of annual pretax cost-related synergies by the end of fiscal 2017.
Major items impacting third-quarter fiscal 2014 EPS comparability
Included in the $0.58 diluted EPS from continuing operations for the third quarter of fiscal 2014 (EPS amounts rounded and after tax):
- Approximately $0.08 per diluted share of net benefit, or $52 million pretax, related to the mark-to-market impact of derivatives used to hedge input costs, temporarily classified in unallocated Corporate expense. Hedge gains and losses are aggregated, and net amounts are reclassified from unallocated Corporate expense to the operating segments when the underlying commodity or foreign currency being hedged is expensed in segment cost of goods sold.
- Approximately $0.08 per diluted share of net expense, or $55 million pretax, related to the settlement of interest rate derivative hedges that were initiated in prior years in anticipation of refinancing debt that matures in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014. Based on an assessment of the company’s debt repayment alternatives, the company has decided to forego refinancing that debt, and has therefore recognized the derivative loss in earnings immediately.
- Approximately $0.06 per diluted share of net expense, or $38 million pretax, resulting from restructuring and integration (including acquisition-related restructuring). $21 million of this is classified within the results of the Private Brands segment (mostly SG&A), $13 million is classified as unallocated Corporate expense (SG&A), and $4 million is classified within the Consumer Foods segment (mostly SG&A).
- Approximately $0.04 per diluted share of net benefit due to resolving U.S. and foreign tax matters related to transactions occurring in prior years.
- Approximately $0.02 per diluted share of net expense, or $17 million pretax, resulting from impairment of assets in the Commercial Foods segment (SG&A).
Included in the $0.28 diluted EPS from continuing operations for the third quarter of fiscal 2013 (EPS amounts rounded and after tax):
- Approximately $0.16 per diluted share of net expense, or $103 million pretax, resulting from acquisition, acquisition-related restructuring, integration, and transaction costs. $81 million is within unallocated Corporate expense (all of which is in SG&A), $17 million is within the Private Brands results (all cost of goods sold, “COGS”) and $5 million is within Consumer Foods ($2 million in COGS, $3 million in SG&A).
- Approximately $0.04 per diluted share of net expense, or $27 million pretax, related to the mark-to-market impact of derivatives used to hedge input costs, temporarily classified in unallocated Corporate expense. Hedge gains and losses are aggregated, and net amounts are reclassified from unallocated Corporate expense to the operating segments when the underlying commodity or foreign currency being hedged is expensed in segment cost of goods sold.
- Approximately $0.03 per diluted share of net expense related to unusual tax matters resulting from acquisition costs.
- Approximately $0.02 per diluted share of net expense, or $10 million pretax, related to impairment charges for assets within the Commercial Foods segment.
- Approximately $0.01 per diluted share of net expense, or $5 million pretax, related to historical legal and environmental matters, classified within unallocated Corporate expense.