Hershey CEO Expects Minimal Impact From Coronavirus

Hershey's top executive tells analysts she doesn't expect a serious impact from the deadly coronavirus that originated in China.
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Hershey's (HSY) - Get Report top executive told analysts Thursday that the candy company doesn't expect a serious impact from the deadly coronavirus that originated in China.

Shares were rising 3.7% to $156.66 also on the back of better-than-expected quarterly earnings.

CEO Michele Buck said during a fourth-quarter earnings call with investors that while she expects the virus outbreak to have some impact in China, "we're a predominantly North American based company," Buck said, according to a transcript of the call. 

"So not as big an impact as we may see from some others, and we are carefully tracking ... we have not built in nor anticipate something significant there, but we'll keep a close eye on that," the CEO added.

The death toll from the virus has risen to 171, with more than 8,200 people in China and elsewhere confirmed infected. 

Buck said that Hershey has seen "macro economic softness in several of the developing markets in which we participate."

"As we developed our plans for the year," she said, "we tried to take that into account as other factors that were known at the time, clearly the coronavirus would be the one unknown that really we didn't have visibility to at the time, and we are tracking that carefully."

The outbreak began at the start of the Lunar New Year holiday and China has extended the holiday - in some places by more than a week.

"Our business tends to have a seasonal skew around Chinese New Year," Buck said, "we sold in our volume and now consumers are not able to go to retail and so we're trying to carefully watch what's the takeaway will be and any waste implications from the fact that that portfolio is seasonal in nature. So that's the biggest hit for us."

Buck also told analysts that Hersey is "very focused on watching cocoas commodity, because it's critically important for us.

"We do know it's a headwind as we go into next year, and that headwind is built into the guidance that we've given you," she said. "So, every year going forward, we focus on the right combinations of programs, which include hedging, which includes sometimes deciding to price, which include making tradeoffs across the P&L to really accommodate whatever's happening in cocoa pricing."

Hershey reported fourth-quarter earnings and revenue on Thursday that beat Wall Street's expectations. Net income totaled $207.2 million, or 98 cents a share, compared with $336.8 million, or $1.60 a share, at year earlier. Adjusted profit came to $1.28 a share, beating analysts' calls for $1.24.

Revenue totaled $2.07 billion, up from $1.99 billion last year and ahead of Wall Street's $2.06 billion forecast. For full-year 2020, Hershey guided for sales to increase in the range of 2% to 4%, earnings ranging from $6.04 to $6.20, and adjusted earnings in the range of $6.13 to $6.24.

The World Health Organization is set to meet later Thursday in Geneva amid speculation the agency could label the coronavirus outbreak as a global health crisis, triggering deeper travel restrictions in and out of China, the world's second-largest economy.

India reported its first confirmed case of coronavirus. and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that the first case of person-to-person spread of the coronavirus was found in Illinois. Six cases of the virus have been confirmed in the United States, with two in Illinois.