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Low Hog Prices Haunt Smithfield Foods

The company's earnings decline from a year ago and sales are flat.

Declining hog production profits plagued

Smithfield Foods


in the fourth quarter, and the company's earnings fell, but still came in above analysts' estimates.

The company earned $5.1 million, or 5 cents a share, compared with $24.9 million, or 22 cents a share, in the prior-year period. Results included a $2.2 million pretax charge, the company said. Analysts expected 4 cents a share.

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Sales were flat at $1.9 billion.

The company, based in Smithfield, Va., said strong profitability in beef and processed meats somewhat offset continued low hog prices and weak fresh pork prices. Hog production, however, had lower average selling prices and higher raising costs.

"While we anticipated that our results in the fourth quarter would be better than the third quarter, lingering hog prices in the low to mid-$30's for much of the quarter continued to produce losses in our hog production operations," said Joseph W. Luter, chief executive.

Shares of Smithfield closed at $21.04 Tuesday on the

New York Stock Exchange