Kraft Tops Wall Street Profit View, Lifts Outlook Again

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Kraft Foods ( KFT) handily beat Wall Street's expectations for its fiscal third-quarter results and lifted its full-year outlook once again as the Dow component continued to see top-line growth across all of its geographies and consumer acceptance of price increases.

After Wednesday's closing bell, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft, whose brands include A-1 steak sauce, Maxwell House coffee, and Trident chewing gum, reported earnings of $927 million, or 52 cents a share, on revenue of $13.23 billion. On an operating basis, the company said it earned $1.7 billion in the latest quarter, or 58 cents a share.

The average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters was for earnings of 55 cents a share in the September-ended period on revenue of $12.83 billion.

"Our investments in marketing and new products continue to drive high quality growth and solid market shares," said Irene Rosenfeld, the company's chairman and CEO in a statement. "And we've accomplished this despite having taken significant price increases to offset record-high input costs."

The company said it now sees operating earnings of at least $2.27 a share and organic revenue growth of at least 6% for the full year. The current consensus estimate is for a profit of $2.27 a share in fiscal 2011 ending in December.

"Together with substantial savings opportunities, we expect to deliver top-tier results in 2011 and remain on track to launch two industry-leading companies with strong operating momentum in the coming year," Rosenfeld said.

Kraft shares have done well this year, rising just under 10% so far in 2011 before closing Wednesday's regular session at $34.64, up 8 cents. The stock ticked up 31 cents to $34.95 in after-hours action, according to Nasdaq.com, with volume just below 80,000.

In the second quarter ended in June, Kraft topped Wall Street's consensus view by 4 cents, reporting an operating profit of $1.8 billion, or 62 cents a share, on revenue of $13.89 billion. Kraft also lifted its full-year outlook when it reported back in August, forecasting organic revenue growth of at least 5% and operating earnings of at least $2.25 a share.

The sell side was bullish ahead of the third-quarter report with 14 of the 19 analysts covering the stock at either strong buy (14) or buy (6), and the median 12-month price target sitting at $40, implying potential upside of nearly 14% from current levels.

The shares have a forward annual dividend yield of above 3%, and have been very steady even as volatility ramped up through the end of the summer. The 50-day and 200-day moving averages for the stock are $34.48 and $34.46, respectively.

-- Written by Michael Baron in New York.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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