It looks as though the recent scares in competitors' meat products haven't kept shoppers away from Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN ) , as the company reported better-than-expected earnings on Monday. Driven by robust beef and chicken sales, the company grew its net income an impressive 28%. This year hasn't been easy for many meat-processing companies. E. coli and salmonella outbreaks along with high feed costs have kept profits limited, though Tyson has seen its shares rise 54% in the past 12 months. For the company and its peers, the key to the future is maintaining demand for its products amid strengthening competition while keeping the input costs as low as possible.
For the company's fiscal fourth quarter, Tyson hauled in sales of $8.89 billion -- a 7% gain over the prior year and in line with analyst estimates. As mentioned above, both chicken and beef were behind the sales gains, growing by 2.4% and 4%, respectively.
The gain from the chicken segment is particularly interesting given that grain feed costs have been high for most of the year, pushing wholesale prices up and convincing some food retailers to switch to lower-cost products. Tyson's resilience in the segment suggests that cost-control measures are effective enough to mitigate some of the margin crunch, allowing its finished product to remain competitively priced.
Further evidencing operating efficiency, Tyson posted a fourth-quarter net income of $259 million, or $0.70 per share. This comes in as a steep premium to last year's fourth quarter, when the company earned just $0.57 per share. Analysts had been expecting $0.69 per share.
Pork remains a weak segment for both Tyson and the industry at large. Sales dropped 5.6% to $1.4 billion. Hogs may remain a trouble spot for the industry, as a few different viruses appear to be running rampant throughout populations, deadly to baby pigs and reducing supplies.
So, what lies ahead for the meat maker?
The company is targeting double-digit EPS growth annually, and says it will "overdeliver" its initial 10% promise. Tyson guided slightly higher revenue for the coming year ($36 billion) and higher production numbers for chicken, pork, turkey, and beef. Beef and pork are relatively high-priced compared to chicken, which should allow the company to continues its attractive growth in the latter's segment.
For investors, the continued growth coupled with a cost-conscious management team should be attractive given the 10.7 times forward earnings valuation. Tyson trades at an EV/EBITDA of just 6.5 times and has a price-to-sales of just 0.3 times. For comparison, Hillshire Brands (a company less than half the size of Tyson by market cap), trades at more than 17 times earnings and has an EV/EBITDA of 9.3 times.
Though the industry faces some long-term concerns, Tyson appears to be driving demand higher and managing costs well. The stock looks appealing at these levels.
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