Food conglomerate ConAgra's
Reported earnings of $0.36 per share appeared to beat the consensus estimate by $0.05 a share. But according to my calculations, about $0.03 of the gains came from non-recurring items. So subtract that out, and you get $0.33 per share, which is 27% higher than the $0.26 ConAgra earned a year ago.
The rest was a mixed bag. First, let's look at consumer foods, which accounted for 53% of the company's sales and has been focusing more on higher-margin products such as the Healthy Choice and Egg Beater lines. On a comparable basis, sales in this segment increased 6%, and unit volumes grew 5%. ConAgra says the performance of new products here is exceeding initial expectations.
But despite an overall price increase, commodity inflation still ate into overall results. On a comparable basis, operating profits declined 15%. That's worrisome, since other companies dealing with the same costs have fared better. General Mills
I have another issue with the company: It benefited from trading. Now, I have no problem with wanting to hedge results, but this is different. ConAgra actively seeks to profit from trading, like a Wall Street firm. Its trading accounted for 11% of total sales and produced about 20% of operating profits.
Share repurchases, meanwhile, are helping to boost per-share results, with the company reaffirming its $1.48 earnings guidance for the year. However, ConAgra will also have to demonstrate that it can offset the current environment of escalating costs by raising its own prices enough. The current quarter suggests that it hasn't been able to do so. Perhaps Chef Boyardee needs to whip up a better recipe for success.
Fool contributor Larry Rothman is happy to receive feedback, and he promises to read it when he's not being wrestled by his three children. Feel free to email him at email@example.com. He doesn't have any positions in the companies mentioned.