Gauging the latest results out of packaged food giant ConAgra
Here it is in the company's words:
On a comparable basis, after adjusting for $24 million of expense in the current quarter related to implementing cost-saving initiatives and $15 million of contribution in last year's results from businesses since divested, operating profit increased 10% over last year.
Is it me, or is reporting profits excluding "cost-saving" expenses -- which are real costs -- a bit like selling ocean-view property where you have to climb out a window and onto the roof to see the ocean?
And before you celebrate "discontinued operations," consider those "non-core" chicken operations unloaded on Pilgrim's Pride
The source of this quarter's profits might interest shareholders, too. Cost of goods sold rose 0.7%, and the company admits to having problems with "input" costs. Offsetting this was a $51.8 million (10.8%) reduction in selling, general, and administration costs. Cost reductions are great whatever their source, but it would be better to see cost of goods sold decrease along with sales.
The good news was that sales for ConAgra's top 30 brands grew 6%, and the company repurchased 8.3 million shares during the quarter. Total debt decreased 3.4% but stands at a daunting $4.9 billion. Cash jumped from $78 million to $533.7 million.
ConAgra controls 35 well-known supermarket brands, which also makes it tough to judge the overall operation. Alyce Lomax recently reported that unit sales of rival J.M. Smucker's
It's tough to know for sure -- until it's too late. What we do know is that ConAgra's operating margins are better than Sara Lee's
We also know that if ConAgra earns $1.60 for the full year ending in May, the stock trades at 16 times earnings. Given such slow growth, that must be considered a tad rich -- except, that is, for a generous 4% dividend.
Bottom line: Investors looking for value and capital appreciation might want to look elsewhere. For those looking for yield, ConAgra's latest quarterly could actually be worth the difficult read.
Looking for another place to find yield? Try Motley Fool Income Investor . To discuss food or ConAgra with other investors, try The Motley Fool's Vegetarian and Vegan Fools or ConAgra discussion boards.
Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own any of the stocks mentioned. W.D. loves David & Sons sunflower seeds (a ConAgra subsidiary) and contributes handsomely to the revenue of that business.