ConAgra keeps full-year profit forecast after 2nd-quarter beat

Reuters

Dec 19 (Reuters) - ConAgra Foods Inc reported better-than-expected quarterly results, helped by strong sales of its Hunt's ketchup and Marie Callender's frozen meals, sending its shares up 7 percent.

ConAgra stood by its full-year adjusted profit forecast of $2.34-$2.38 per share.

Analysts on average were expecting the company to earn $2.33 per share.

The company also forecast a slight fall in sales volumes in its biggest business, the consumer foods division.

"The full-year outlook for a slight decline in consumer volume seems to indicate flattish volumes in the back half, an acceptable outlook," Janney Capital Markets analyst Jonathan Feeney wrote in a note.

Sales in the consumer business, which includes Hunt's, Marie Callender's and Slim Jim brands, were flat in the second quarter at $2 billion, an improvement from the 3 percent decline in the first quarter.

Overall sales rose 26 percent to $4.71 billion in the quarter ended Nov. 24, helped in part by the transition of some business to the second quarter from the third quarter, the company said.

Janney Capital's Feeney said that while some volume shift from the third quarter did appear to help the second quarter, the 2014 earnings-per-share forecast and outlook for consumer volumes in the second half of the year were a positive in a difficult retail environment.

Rival General Mills Inc reported lower-than-expected quarterly earnings on Wednesday as U.S. sales of its ready-to-eat meals and frozen foods fell.

ConAgra's second-quarter net income rose 17.5 percent to $248.7 million, or 58 cents per share, helped by lower interest expenses and tax rate.

Excluding items, the company earned 62 cents per share.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of 55 cents per share on revenue of $4.63 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Omaha, Nebraska-based ConAgra's shares were up 6 percent at $33.70 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock has risen about 15 percent this year.

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