ConAgra reports fiscal 2011 Q3 EPS growth; confirms fiscal-year guidance

ConAgra reports fiscal 2011 Q3 EPS growth; confirms fiscal-year guidance

ConAgra Foods, Inc. reported results for the fiscal 2011 third quarter ended Feb. 27, 2011. As reported, diluted EPS from continuing operations was $0.50, a 2% increase over the $0.49 earned in the year-ago period.

  • Diluted EPS from continuing operations of $0.50 as reported and adjusted for items impacting comparability; up 2% as reported and up 16% on a comparable basis.
  • Consumer Foods and Commercial Foods comparable operating profits increased over year-ago amounts, improving on the results seen earlier this fiscal year.
  • Lower incentive compensation expense and recent share repurchases contributed to the quarter's EPS results.
  • Fiscal 2011 diluted EPS adjusted for items impacting comparability expected to grow at a low-single-digit rate over comparable fiscal 2010 EPS (fiscal 2010 eps:$1.67 as reported)(fiscal 2010 eps:$1.74 comparable base).

ConAgra Foods, Inc., (CAG 22.93, -0.06, -0.26%) one of North America's leading packaged food companies, reported results for the fiscal 2011 third quarter ended Feb. 27, 2011. As reported, diluted EPS from continuing operations was $0.50, a 2% increase over the $0.49 earned in the year-ago period. Diluted EPS from continuing operations increased 16% after adjusting for $0.06 per diluted share of net benefit in the year-ago period from items impacting comparability. Items impacting comparability, including those relating to business segment performance, for the current fiscal year (no net EPS impact) and prior fiscal year are summarized toward the end of this release and reconciled for Regulation G purposes on pages 9 and 10.

Gary Rodkin, ConAgra Foods' chief executive officer, said, "We are pleased that fiscal third-quarter results demonstrate comparable EPS and segment operating profit growth, despite high input cost inflation and other challenging economic conditions. Sequential price/mix trends in our Consumer Foods segment are directionally improving as we expected. While inflationary pressures continue to build and difficult conditions persist, we expect our performance to continue to benefit from pricing actions under way, strong supply chain cost savings, and other profit-enhancing initiatives we have previously detailed. We are confident in our ability to post a low-single-digit rate of EPS growth over the comparable $1.74 earned last fiscal year."

Consumer Foods Segment (66% of third-quarter sales) Branded and non-branded food sold in retail and foodservice channels.

The Consumer Foods segment posted sales of $2,085 million and operating profit of $263 million for the third quarter. Sales increased 2% as reported, reflecting flat organic volume and price/mix compared with a year ago, and approximately 2% benefit from acquisitions (net of divestitures).

  • Brands posting sales growth for the quarter included Banquet, DAVID, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Manwich, Marie Callender's, Peter Pan, Slim Jim, Wesson, and others.
  • More brand details can be found in the Q&A document accompanying this release.
  • Based on accelerating input cost inflation, the company has been implementing net pricing increases, which will be more apparent in future sales results.

Operating profit of $263 million was below $306 million in the year-ago period, as reported. After adjusting for $39 million of restructuring and asset impairment costs in the current period, as well as $14 million of gain from divesting the Luck's brand in the year-ago period, comparable current-quarter operating profit increased 3%. The profit performance reflects strong supply chain savings, lower advertising and promotion expense, and lower incentive compensation expense, which collectively offset significant inflation. The company is on track to deliver in excess of $275 million of cost savings in the Consumer Foods segment this fiscal year.

Commercial Foods Segment (34% of third-quarter sales) Specialty potato, milled grain products, and seasonings, blends and flavors sold to foodservice and commercial channels worldwide.

Sales for the Commercial Foods segment were $1,070 million, 7% above year-ago amounts. The sales increase reflects higher selling prices for the flour milling operations necessitated by higher wheat input costs, as well as volume growth for Lamb Weston specialty potato products.

Segment operating profit was $139 million, slightly below $143 million in the year-ago period as reported. After adjusting for $10 million of restructuring charges in the current quarter, comparable segment operating profit increased 5%. Lamb Weston benefited from improved potato crop quality, and has pricing and efficiency initiatives under way to address overall margin pressure. Flour milling profits increased from year-ago amounts due to favorable market conditions and effective margin management in a very volatile wheat market.

Hedging Activities—This language primarily relates to operations other than the company's milling operations.

The company recorded $24 million of net hedging benefit within unallocated Corporate expense in the current quarter, and an immaterial amount in the year-ago period. The company identifies the $24 million gain as an item impacting comparability. The net hedging amounts are reclassified from unallocated Corporate expense to the operating segments when the underlying commodity or foreign currency being economically hedged is expensed in segment cost of goods sold.

Capital and Other Items

  • Corporate expense was $26 million for the quarter and $88 million in the year-ago period. Current-quarter amounts include $24 million of net hedging benefit, and a $25 million gain related to the early repayment of payment-in-kind notes receivable by a debtor. Prior-year amounts include $15 million of benefit related to favorable adjustments in environmental liabilities. Excluding these amounts, Corporate expense was $75 million for the current quarter and $103 million in the year-ago period; the decrease largely reflects lower incentive compensation expense and other benefits from ongoing cost reduction efforts.
  • Net interest expense was $52 million in the current quarter, compared with $40 million in the year-ago period. The increase is due primarily to the fact that a debtor has repaid in full the payment-in-kind notes receivable related to the divestiture of the Trading & Merchandising operations, and thus the company is no longer receiving interest income on those notes. Prior-year amounts included $21 million of income from those notes. As previously communicated, the company's share repurchase authorization was increased by the amount of the proceeds from the repayment of the notes. The EPS benefit of the share repurchases is expected to substantially offset the EPS impact of the foregone interest income by the start of fiscal 2012. The company repurchased $490 million, or 21.4 million shares, of its common stock during the quarter and plans to repurchase in the range of $135 million more before fiscal year-end, subject to market conditions. Repurchases may be completed through negotiated transactions or open market purchases.
  • Equity method investment earnings were $7 million in the current quarter and $3 million in the year-ago period.
  • The effective tax rate for continuing operations for the quarter was approximately 35%. The company continues to expect the continuing operations effective tax rate for the full fiscal year 2011 to be approximately 34%, adjusted for items impacting comparability.
  • For the quarter, capital expenditures from continuing operations for property, plant, and equipment were $136 million, compared with $120 million in the year-ago period. Depreciation and amortization expense from continuing operations was approximately $91 million for the quarter; this compares with a total of $82 million in the year-ago period.
  • Dividends for the quarter totaled $100 million versus $89 million for the year-ago period, reflecting an increase in the dividend rate earlier this fiscal year and fewer shares outstanding.
  • Subsequent to quarter end, the company reached a settlement in principle with its insurance carriers related to the Garner, NC event in 2009. Related to this, the company will record a gain of approximately $105 million in the fourth quarter, which will be classified as an item impacting comparability.

Outlook

The company continues to expect fiscal 2011 full-year diluted EPS, adjusted for items impacting comparability, to show a low-single-digit rate of growth over the comparable $1.74 earned in fiscal 2010. This improvement primarily reflects the benefits of pricing actions, strong supply chain savings, improved potato crop quality, lower incentive compensation costs, share repurchases, and contributions from innovation and recently acquired businesses.

Regarding quarterly details:

  • Fiscal 2011 third-quarter EPS was higher than planned.
  • The company's expectations for fiscal 2011 second-half earnings in aggregate are unchanged.
  • The company now expects fiscal fourth-quarter comparable EPS amounts to be lower than comparable fiscal third-quarter EPS amounts, primarily due to accelerating inflation and higher-than-planned third quarter flour milling profits. The company expects fiscal 2011 fourth quarter EPS to show strong comparable year-over-year growth.

The company notes that fiscal 2012 projections have not yet been finalized; consistent with past practice, the company plans to provide fiscal 2012 guidance in its fiscal fourth-quarter release.

Major Items Impacting Third-quarter Fiscal 2011 EPS Comparability

Included in the $0.50 diluted EPS from continuing operations for the third quarter of fiscal 2011 (EPS amounts rounded and after tax):

  • Approximately $0.07 per diluted share of net expense, or $49 million pretax, reflecting restructuring charges as well as asset impairment charges relating to a small business.—Restructuring charges of $33 million, or $0.05 per diluted share, classified as $23 million within Consumer Foods ($6 million COGS, $17 million SG&A) and $10 million within the Commercial Foods segment (SG&A).
  • Asset impairment charges of $16 million, or $0.02 per diluted share, classified within Consumer Foods SG&A.
  • Approximately $0.04 per diluted share of net benefit, or $25 million pretax, resulting from the receipt of $554 million in cash as early repayment in full for notes receivable related to the 2008 divestiture of the Trading and Merchandising operations. This is classified within unallocated Corporate expense.
  • Approximately $0.03 per diluted share of net benefit, or $24 million pretax, related to the mark-to-market impact of derivatives used to hedge input costs, temporarily classified in unallocated Corporate expense. This will later be reclassified to the operating segments when underlying hedged items are expensed in cost of goods sold.
  • Included in the $0.49 diluted EPS from continuing operations for the third quarter of fiscal 2010 (EPS amounts rounded and after tax):
  • Approximately $0.02 per diluted share gain resulting from the sale of the Luck's brand. This $14 million pretax gain is classified within the Selling, General, and Administrative expenses of the Consumer Foods segment.
  • Approximately $0.02 per diluted share of net benefit, or a $15 million reduction in pretax expense, associated with favorable adjustments to environmental liabilities. This is classified within unallocated Corporate expense.
  • Approximately $0.02 per diluted share of net income tax benefits resulting in a lower-than-planned effective income tax rate.
  • NOTE: When reporting third-quarter diluted EPS from continuing operations in fiscal 2010, there was $0.01 of EPS related to the Gilroy Foods & Flavors dehydrated vegetable operations within continuing operations. This business was subsequently divested, and the $0.01 of EPS is now included in discontinued operations. As a result of this reclassification, fiscal 2010 third-quarter diluted EPS from continuing operations, excluding items impacting comparability, now rounds to $0.43 instead of the $0.44 presented in the prior year.

Discussion of Results

ConAgra Foods will host a conference call at 9:30 a.m. EDT today to discuss the results. Following the company's remarks, the call will include a question-and-answer session with the investment community. Domestic and international participants may access the conference call toll-free by dialing 1-877-718-5104 and 1-719-325-4747, respectively. No confirmation or pass code is needed. This conference call also can be accessed live on the Internet at investor.conagrafoods.com.

A rebroadcast of the conference call will be available after 1 p.m. EDT today. To access the digital replay, a pass code number will be required. Domestic participants should dial 1-888-203-1112, and international participants should dial 1-719-457-0820 and enter pass code 4725396. A rebroadcast also will be available on the company's website.

ConAgra Foods, Inc., (CAG 22.93, -0.06, -0.26%) is one of North America's leading food companies, with brands in 97 percent of America's households. Consumers find Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Marie Callender's, Orville Redenbacher's, PAM, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip, Slim Jim, Snack Pack and many other ConAgra Foods brands in grocery, convenience, mass merchandise and club stores. ConAgra Foods also has a strong business-to-business presence, supplying frozen potato and sweet potato products as well as other vegetable, spice and grain products to a variety of well-known restaurants, foodservice operators and commercial customers. For more information, please visit us at www.conagrafoods.com.

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