If you're talking about a meat company these days, it's almost assuredly seeing lower profits. Doesn't matter if it's Pilgrim's Pride
In the case of Smithfield, sales were down about 4%, as tough pork pricing trampled results. How tough? Well, average live hog market prices were about 21% lower in the quarter than in the year-ago period. Unfortunately, costs haven't fallen by a similar amount, and the company saw its operating profit drop a similar 21% or so in the quarter.
Smithfield's pig gig was a mixed blessing. Lower hog prices and higher sales volumes helped the fresh and processed meat business, but it butchered the much more profitable hog production segment. For those Fools who may be unfamiliar with the difference, hog production turns piglets into porkers, while the "pork business" turns those porkers into pork chops and bacon. I'm not sure it's entirely fair to amalgamate the pork and hog production business into a whole unit, but let's try it out just for fun. On that combined basis, sales of the other white meat were down 8%, and operating profits were down 21%.
Times may be tough now, and it may be true that times will get a little tougher still, but Smithfield has a couple of cards up its sleeve. First, its beef business isn't quite as much of a disaster zone at some of its competitors'. I'm thinking that if it's doing better now, it'll do a lot better when the overall beef cycle improves. The company also has an emerging business in Central/Eastern Europe -- it's not contributing much today, but it could do a lot more in the future.
I haven't been Smithfield's biggest cheerleader, and that's not about to change. There's quite a lot of debt here, and the returns on invested capital are relatively modest. That said, I like how the company is building its value-added businesses (like pre-cooked bacon), and I can't help noticing that the stock is attractively priced relative to past levels. There are still other meat companies I like better, but it's certainly fair to say I like Smithfield more now than probably ever before.
For more meaty missives from The Motley Fool:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).