Anchored by strong showings in its turkey and pork businesses, Hormel Foods Corp. ended its fiscal year by cruising through Wall Street's profit expectations Tuesday.
The company's shares climbed 7 percent, or $2.51, closing at $44.95. Hormel's stock has posted a 47 percent return over the past calendar year, well ahead of food industry peers.
"It's just really had a strong run in 2013," said Ken Perkins, an analyst at Morningstar.
Austin-based Hormel reported earnings of $157.3 million, or 58 cents per share, for the three months ended Oct. 27. That's up from $132.6 million, or 49 cents per share, a year ago. Sales were up 7 percent to $2.3 billion.
Stock analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were anticipating fourth-quarter profits of 54 cents per share on sales of $2.3 billion.
"We are pleased to report a strong finish for fiscal 2013," Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger told analysts in a conference call.
Hormel's refrigerated foods division, its biggest business, saw operating profits increase 30 percent over a year ago on sales growth of 4 percent. The company is benefiting from higher profit margins in pork, and its bacon business is shining particularly brightly.
Hormel's Jennie-O Turkey Store segment posted a 25 percent increase in operating profits over a year ago on dollar sales growth of 7 percent. Sales have been led by turkey breakfast sausages, turkey bacon and ground turkey products.
The firm's grocery products division, which includes Spam and its namesake chili, had a soft quarter. While it posted a 17 percent gain in operating profits over a year ago on a sales increase of 23 percent, that increase includes Skippy peanut butter, which Hormel acquired earlier this year. Excluding Skippy, grocery products sales were up just 1 percent.
While the company handily beat earnings expectations, analysts pointed out that Hormel got help from a $12 million reduction in selling, general and administration expenses, due mostly to a timing issue, not fundamental cost cuts. "They really cut back marketing during the third quarter," said Brian Yarbrough, an analyst at Edward Jones.
Specifically, Jennie-O advertising was below historical norms during the quarter with Hormel planning a new ad campaign for ground turkey in early 2014.
Hormel expects earnings in fiscal 2014 of $2.17 per share to $2.27 per share. That's up from the $1.95 per share it earned in its just-finished fiscal 2013, and in line with analysts' expectations.
"We expect to benefit from lower grain and turkey commodity costs, while higher beef input costs and uncertainty of hog supplies may offset some of those gains headed into the new year," Ettinger said.
The cost of corn, a prime ingredient in hog and turkey feed, recently hit a three-year low. While lower feed costs have yet to significantly work their way to Hormel's bottom line, they are expected to in upcoming quarters.
Despite the positive feed outlook and Hormel's diversification move with the Skippy deal, its stock is "still too pricey," Jonathan Feeney, an analyst at Janney Capital Markets, wrote in a research report Tuesday. Edward Jones' Yarbrough agreed.
"The valuation has gotten ahead of itself," said Yarbrough, who has a "sell" rating on Hormel for that reason. Hormel's stock historically trades at a price-to-earnings ratio of 16 to 17, but is currently at 20.