Hormel profit jumps 13% on strong grocery sales

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 20, 2012 - 9:47 PM

Annual revenue topped $8 billion, but a conservative forecast sent shares down.

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Hormel Compleats microwavable meals are part of Hormel’s strong- performing grocery segment.

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Hormel Foods Corp. on Tuesday posted a 13 percent increase in profits over a year ago, anchored by a strong performance from its grocery products business, particularly Spam and Mexican foods.

But Austin, Minn.-based Hormel's stock fell 4 percent, at least partly because the company's new year earnings forecast was more conservative than some investors expected, analysts said.

Hormel reported fourth-quarter earnings of $132.6 million, or 49 cents per share, up from $117.3 million, or 43 cents per share, a year ago. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting a profit of 50 cents per share, and the slight miss may have also weighed on Hormel's stock.

Hormel's sales clocked in at $2.2 billion, roughly in line with analysts' expectations. For the year, Hormel topped the $8 billion sales mark for the first time, reaching $8.2 billion.

Also, Hormel on Tuesday announced the 47th annual dividend increase, this time from 60 cents per share to 68 cents. Hormel shares closed at $30.05, down $1.25.

"I thought it was an OK quarter," said Ken Perkins, a stock analyst at Morningstar Inc. "There wasn't a lot of surprises."

Perkins said Hormel's earnings guidance may have pushed down its stock price. The company unveiled a 2013 profit range of $1.90 to $2 per share.

One analyst, Jonathan Feeney of Janney Capital Markets, called that range "bold," but others said it seemed conservative given Hormel's long-term profit growth goals.

The company has aimed to boost profits 10 percent annually. From 2009 through 2011, it far exceeded that goal. But in fiscal 2012, earnings per share rose only 7 percent. And the profit range Hormel gave for 2013 implies an annual increase of 2 percent to 8 percent.

On a conference call Tuesday with analysts, Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger was asked whether something "structural" is slowing down the firm's growth rate. "No, we really don't think we've slowed down," Ettinger answered.

Noting profit increases in the high teens from 2009 through 2011, he said "there is a little bit of an ebb and flow going on." Rising input costs have challenged Hormel over the past two years, he said.

But "the underlying health of the franchises, though, to me is very robust, and so I'm quite optimistic that our long-term goals remain very reachable," Ettinger said.

Hormel's grocery products segment had a bang-up quarter, its operating profit up 22 percent over a year ago and dollar sales up 21 percent.

Hormel began accounting for sales of its Don Miguel Mexican products in its grocery segment last quarter. So, excluding Mexican items, grocery sales were up 3 percent over a year ago, led by Spam and chili.

Hormel's refrigerated foods business, which includes its fresh meat offerings, had a weak quarter. It saw a 12 percent decline in operating profit, squeezed by shrinking pork margins.

The company's third major business, Jennie-O Turkey Store, had another solid quarter despite rising feed costs. Operating profit and sales were both up 5 percent over a year ago.

Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003

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