ConAgra

(CAG) - Get Report

said high energy costs and the slowing economy are hurting the outlook for the rest of the fiscal year, and the company responded by lowering its earnings guidance.

The company behind brands such as Healthy Choice, Wesson and Van Camp's reported double-digit earnings growth for the first half of fiscal 2001, but said "risk-mitigating activities" will not be enough to offset higher energy costs. As a result, the additional expenses could slice 17 cents a share off the company's bottom line. ConAgra added that "were it not for the company's hedging efforts, costs would have been even higher." The company's fiscal year ends May 27.

Additionally, ConAgra projected that the harsh winter weather and uncertainty surrounding farm policy could shave 13 cents off of second-half earnings. Promotion and distribution expenses for the company's food products will take another 10 cents out of second-half profits.

In the fiscal third quarter, which ends Feb. 28, the company expects earnings of 18 cents to 20 cents a share.

First Call/Thomson Financial

carries a consensus estimate of 44 cents a share. For the fiscal fourth quarter, ConAgra, which is based in Omaha, Neb., forecast earnings of 39 cents to 41 cents a share, compared with Wall Street's 53-cent estimate. In the third and fourth fiscal quarters of 2000, ConAgra earned 41 cents and 46 cents a share, respectively. For the fiscal year, the company expects to earn $1.46 to $1.50 a share. Analysts expect earnings of $1.85 a share. The company earned $1.67 in fiscal 2000.

On the

New York Stock Exchange

today, shares of ConAgra gained 6 cents, or 0.2%, to close at $24.86.