Three months ago, in reviewing the most recent earnings news from cereal magnate General Mills
Analysts aren't remotely optimistic about the results that General Mills will report tomorrow. They do believe that the company again grew sales by about 3%. However, they also expect General Mills to post a $0.03-per-share decline in profits, from $0.99 a year ago to $0.96.
Don't expect better news for the rest of the year. Analysts predict a 9% decline in profits for the quarter we're in now and generally flat growth for the entire year. In other words, it seems that fiscal Q1 may have been this company's annual high point.
Speaking of full-year estimates, it's interesting to note that analysts believe General Mills will earn a total of $2.91 per diluted share this year. when the company itself said it will earn just $2.83. The reason for the disconnect -- most of it, anyway -- appears to be a charge that General Mills expects to take in order to account for contingently convertible debt. According to the company, that charge will shave $0.07 per share off its net results for the year. If you add those cents back in, you'll find yourself back within a penny of the year's consensus number.
So overall, we're looking at seriously muted expectations for General Mills tomorrow. That's good. With most of Wall Street down on General Mills (two thirds of the analysts following the stock rate it either "hold" or "sell"), there's a decent chance for Fools to see something the professionals miss -- or aren't looking for in the first place. I refer, of course, to free cash flow.
As Stephen mentioned back in September, General Mills turned free cash flow-positive in Q1. Compare that to its negative free cash flow in last year's Q1. What Stephen didn't tell you is that General Mills has been free cash flow negative in each of its Q1s over the past two years, and that over the past four fiscal quarters, the company has consistently trounced its free cash flow numbers from the respective year-ago periods.
That's very good news for General Mills shareholders. Let's hope to see more of the same tomorrow.
Further Foolishness is part of a balanced breakfast:
Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position, short or long, in General Mills.