Century-old packaged foods company Conagra Brands (CAG -1.89%) saw its share prices collapse alongside the rest of the market as the COVID-19 pandemic erupted across the USA in March. However, as people responded to the coronavirus' spread by stockpiling staples, sales for the week ending March 29 exploded 30.9%.
This sharp ascent was the start of Conagra's vigorous rebound. By mid-April, Conagra's shares traded at their pre-coronavirus levels. Its stock resumed climbing in July, peaking in late August at $38.26, the highest in two years.
Data presented during Conagra's Q4 2020 earnings report and associated conference call on June 30 supports a bullish picture of the company's prospects. Organic net sales grew 22% year over year, while investors chowed down on adjusted quarterly EPS of $0.75, a 108.3% jump from fiscal Q4 2019's $0.36 adjusted EPS. Whole-year adjusted EPS rose 13.4%.
Conagra's full-year $1.47 free cash flow outperformed expectations. Using the windfall to deleverage, it took $271 million off total debt and wiped away $725 million in net debt, cutting its leverage ratio to 4.0 from the previous 4.8. The company's guidance states that the ratio should fall to approximately 3.5 to 3.6 by fiscal 2021's end. It also expects Q1 2021 organic net sales to climb 10% to 13%, and $0.54 to $0.59 adjusted EPS.
While the strongest part of the COVID-19 spike may be over, Conagra definitely improved its outlook. With less leverage, plenty of cash, ongoing organic sales strength, and "strong growth in e-commerce continued to accelerate both on an absolute basis and as a percentage of our overall sales," the results support CEO Sean Connolly's statement that Conagra's "portfolio is optimally positioned to succeed in the new normal."