Will Lancaster Colony's
For the quarter, net sales increased just 3% to $271 million. Its core specialty-foods sales mirrored the companywide increase, but operating income dropped nearly 29% to $24.5 million. Higher material costs, promotions, and an unfavorable sales mix all contributed. Going forward, it is implementing price increases to help offset higher raw-material prices.Barrington, an investment firm owning 5.3% of the company, has been agitating for Lancaster Colony to sell its non-food businesses. It should have been delighted to see the automotive operations being divested, as well as the impending shutdown of its industrial-glass operations. In general, the company will seek to unload underperforming non-food businesses -- but not all of the non-food businesses.
Barrington has gone so far as to request company records. It wants to find out whether there is any mismanagement going on and whether sufficient board oversight exists. Besides asset sales, the investment firm is pushing for a reduction in capital expenditures, some cost-cutting, and an increase in debt to fund a buyback. These are all short-term moves designed to give a quick boost to the stock price. You have to wonder how this looks to all of the company's other investors.
Management is facing a difficult environment. Rising energy and commodity prices have pinched consumers and company profitability alike. These factors are out of its control, and it seems to be taking responsible steps to accommodate, such as getting rid of underperforming businesses, establishing price increases to offset rising costs, and investing in new products. But now it has to contend with a malcontent shareholder, too. The company is left fighting on two battlefronts, and that is very difficult to do. Just ask the shareholders of Motorola
I'm not taking sides here, and I'd advise investors to sit on the sidelines until the situation defrosts.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He doesn't have any positions in the companies mentioned.