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ConAgra Beats, Boosts Outlook

ConAgra's (CAG) second-quarter earnings handily topped estimates, with cost cuts helping to boost profits amid a modest increase in sales.

The stronger-than-expected results led the packaged food maker to increase its profit forecast for the full year.

For the quarter ended Nov. 26, ConAgra earned $219.6 million, or 43 cents a share, up from $152.5 million, or 29 cents a share, a year earlier. The latest quarter's results included several one-time items that had a net effect of adding 3 cents a share to earnings.

Excluding items, ConAgra earned 40 cents a share. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call had an average estimate for a profit of 33 cents a share.

The company, whose brands include Chef Boyardee, Orville Redenbacher's and Hebrew National, said sales climbed 2.9% to $3.09 billion from $3.00 billion. Wall Street expected sales of $3.02 billion.

ConAgra attributed the improved results to margin expansion. The company has been seeking to cut costs and make divestitures as part of a turnaround plan to focus on its priority brands.

"Our progress puts us on track for a better EPS performance this year than we originally expected, and is providing the fuel that will allow us to make increased marketing and innovation investments," said CEO Gary Rodkin in a press release. "Although we expect productivity gains to be the main driver of solid earnings performance throughout the remainder of fiscal 2007, our marketing investments will help us deliver future bottom-line improvements through top-line growth in key brands."

ConAgra now expects fiscal 2007 earnings of $1.28 to $1.44 a share, excluding certain items. Previously, the company forecast earnings of $1.15 to $1.20 a share. Analysts, on average, predict earnings of $1.25 a share.

Shares of ConAgra were up $1.50, or 5.6%, to $28.35 in premarket trading.

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