Smithfield Brings Home the Bacon

In the "Monster Pig" saga that has played itself out in the media in recent days, the pig that was shot by an 11-year-old boy apparently weighed more than 1,000 pounds.  There has been no word yet whether Smithfield Foods (NYSE: SFD  ) , or any of its competitors such as Hormel Foods (NYSE: HRL  ) , Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN  ) , or ConAgra Foods (NYSE: CAG  ) , have made any inventory- or endorsement-related offers to the young lad.

Given the Q4 results that Smithfield reported yesterday, there is little reason to believe that there would be any need for Smithfield to do so. The meat producer reported EPS of $0.33 for the quarter on $3.1 billion in total sales. These results mark a significant improvement over the company's results in the year-ago quarter, in which it reported EPS of $0.01 on $2.7 billion in sales.

The company's turnaround is largely attributable to its pork segment, which saw healthy increases in margins for its packaged meats and fresh pork. Operating profits from pork nearly quadrupled year over year. Strong sales growth from existing pork operations, coupled with the contributions from an acquisition made in the prior year, have propelled the segment to account for 86% of the company's total operating profit, up from 46% in the prior year's quarter.

The primary risk factor in owning this stock is the fact that the company has been experiencing continuing increases in the costs of its grain, as well as rising freight and energy costs, which have been cutting into the bottom line. On the flip side, one specific development of noteworthy importance to shareholders pertains to the potential upside the stock could see from future exports to South Korea.

South Korea banned U.S. beef in 2003 after mad cow disease was reported in the United States. The country partially lifted this ban last year and recently announced that it would lift almost all restrictions. Smithfield could see the benefits of South Korea repealing its ban as early as the first half of its FY 2008. This opportunity, along with the expectation of improved packaged meat margins in FY 2008, should allow the company to carry its Q4 momentum into the upcoming quarters.

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Fool contributor Billy Fisher does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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