ConAgra Surges as Earnings Beat Estimates

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - ConAgra ( CAG) surged Thursday as the Omaha-based food company reported an earnings increase that exceeded expectations.

Shares gained 5.1% to close at $35.04.

ConAgra said that for its fiscal year ended May 26, net income from continuing operations increased 65% to $1.85 billion compared to $1.12 billion a year ago quarter. CEO Gary Rodkin expects earnings to be greater than $3.00 per share by 2017.

ConAgra's consumer foods division expanded this quarter, as Banquet, Hebrew National, PAM and more grew by 7% this quarter, to $2.3 billion in sales. Operating profits rose 8% to $291 million over the past year, up from $270 million. "The comparable profit growth reflects the segment's overall sales growth, strong cost savings which more than offset minimal input cost inflation, increased incentives, and an increase in marketing investment," said the company in a statement.

The commercial division, which deals with seasonings, flavors, and grain and potato products posted 4% growth and $1.3 billion in sales. Operating profits rose 13% this year to $156 million. Its Lamb Weston potato operation faced obstacles in soft Asian markets but still saw strong sales. ConAgra said that it saw the most growth in their flour milling operations that moved increased volumes. The company will expand this operation with Ardent Mills in fiscal 2014.

ConAgra acquired Ralcorp Holdings, a private food producer, for $4.95 billion earlier this year. Ralcorp brought in $962 million in sales revenue in the fourth quarter. Rodkin said "an increase in expected synergies from the recent Ralcorp transaction" will perpetuate the expansion ConAgra experienced this year.

ConAgra paid $104 million dollars in dividends in the fourth quarter and contributed $400 million to debt reduction, working towards $1.5 billion as part of refinancing efforts.

ConAgra shares have gained 20% year-to-date.

Written by Robert Arenella in New York

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