ConAgra Foods ( CAG) reported a drop in fourth-quarter earnings due in part to charges from the discontinuation of its chicken business.

Including charges, the company earned $150.4 million, or 28 cents a share, in the quarter ended May 25, compared with $192.2 million, or 36 cents a share, in the prior-year quarter. The company recorded a loss of 14 cents a share related to a pending divestiture and discontinuation of its chicken operations. Income from continuing operations, however, increased 25% to $225 million, the company said.

Excluding charges, the company earned 42 cents a share, up from 34 cents a share in the comparable quarter. Analysts expected 41 cents a share.

Total sales fell to $3.9 billion, from $5.9 billion in the year-ago period, reflecting divestitures in the meat-processing, canned seafood and cheese-processing segments, and other operations. ConAgra's packaged foods unit sales were $3.1 billion, down 3% from last year.

Looking ahead, ConAgra said it expects first-quarter 2004 earnings to fall below its first-quarter 2003 results. Additionally, the company expects to see 5% to 9% annual growth in operating earnings longer term. ConAgra did not provide specific EPS amounts because of the potential for charges and changes to its supply chain and manufacturing network.

Analysts expect the company to earn 38 cents a share in the first quarter, $1.71 a share for full-year 2004 and $1.85 a share in 2005.

Shares of the Omaha, Neb.-based company closed at $24.11 Wednesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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