ConAgra: A Healthy Stock Choice?

ConAgra Foods (NYSE: CAG  ) reported fourth-quarter earnings yesterday. The company's Peter Pan problems didn't seem to stop it from posting very good results.

Net sales increased 13% to $3.3 billion. Income from continuing operations came in at $0.38 per diluted share -- a sharp jump over the $0.11 per diluted share brought in by continuing operations in last year's comparable quarter.

Trading and merchandising activities related to agricultural products, energy, and fertilizers boosted ConAgra's fortunes. The profit derived from these operations increased fivefold to $200 million. When I saw that, I made sure to read a little further in the release to confirm a suspicion -- yep, this could be an anomaly, and management does not expect this performance to be repeated next year. I can agree with that sentiment.

Nevertheless, this was a great showing, especially considering that the company had to put up with a recall of its famous Peter Pan peanut butter due to salmonella contamination (I was horrified when I found out that I had one of those jars myself). The incident may have helped out competitor J.M. Smucker (NYSE: SJM  ) , but it certainly didn't destroy ConAgra's ability to use the rest of its product portfolio to make money for itself.

ConAgra is one of those companies that fall into the "invest in what you know" category. We're all familiar with its brands -- Chef Boyardee, PAM, Banquet, and Healthy Choice are some examples. Like Kraft (NYSE: KFT  ) , Heinz (NYSE: HNZ  ) , Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB  ) , and Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN  ) , ConAgra is a play on the supermarket aisles.

This past December, Michael Leibert covered the second-quarter earnings report from ConAgra, discussing how the company was in the midst of a turnaround. A restructuring has been put in place, so that only the brands with the best potential are supported with valuable marketing capital. ConAgra really does seem to be improving, and the stock currently yields a nice 2.7%. I wouldn't necessarily rate the company a buy just yet, as I'd like to continue to observe the effects of the changes in operations, but it is definitely one for the watch list.

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Fool contributor Steven Mallas owns none of the companies mentioned. As of this writing, he was ranked 10,525 out of 31,195 in the Motley Fool CAPS system. Don't know what CAPS is? Check it out. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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