ConAgra Earnings Solid, Even Though Top Line Falls Short

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ConAgra Foods Inc. (NYSE: CAG) reported first-quarter fiscal 2016 results before markets opened Tuesday. The food processor and packager reported quarterly adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $0.45 on revenues of $2.79 billion. In the same period a year ago, ConAgra reported EPS of $0.39 on revenue of $2.76 billion. Third-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $0.40 and $3.67 billion in revenue.

Discontinued operations (currently ConAgra’s private label business) posted a loss of $3.23 per diluted share this quarter, reflecting a significant impairment charge related to the reclassification of assets as held for sale. After adjusting for this charge, private label operations earned $0.04 per diluted share this quarter. Expected earnings from the private label operations were included in the company’s previously issued guidance.

ConAgra did not issue fiscal year 2016 guidance, saying that it will delay providing guidance until it is nearer to divesting its private label business and has a better handle on cost reduction targets and investments in the remaining consumer foods and commercial foods segments. The company did say that it expects the remaining segments to post modest comparable operating profit growth for the full fiscal year. Consensus estimates call for full-year EPS of $2.24 on revenues of $15.58 billion. The EPS total is about 2.7% higher than ConAgra’s 2015 EPS total of $2.18.

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For the second quarter, ConAgra said adjusted diluted EPS is expected to be in line with last year’s profit of $0.61 per share. The consensus estimate calls for EPS of $0.63 on revenues of $4.15 billion. The company did not provide a revenue estimate, but the consensus estimate seems awfully optimistic based on first-quarter results.

CEO Sean Connolly said:

While early days, we are making good progress against our plan to drive margin improvement within a more focused portfolio. In the near-term, we expect to grow profits modestly in fiscal 2016 across the Consumer Foods and Commercial Foods segments by building on the stronger foundations established last fiscal year, with an emphasis on improving price/mix and implementing relentless cost discipline.

Our entire organization is focused on delivering long-term top- and bottom-line improvement. Rigorous portfolio segmentation work and improving innovation capabilities should benefit our top line over time, and we are in the midst of developing aggressive cost savings plans to drive improved SG&A, trade spend efficiency, and COGS.

Shares of ConAgra were inactive in premarket trading Tuesday, having closed at $42.40 on Monday, up 0.4% for the day in a 52-week range $32.41 to $45.49. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $45.10 before the results were announced.

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