Tyson Foods 4Q profit falls on higher costs

Associated Press
This Nov. 18, 2011 photo, shows a Tyson food product, in Montpelier, Vt. Tyson Foods Inc. said Monday, Nov. 21, 2011, its fiscal fourth quarter profit was half of last year's level, as higher grain costs hurt profit margins even as sales and prices rose. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)
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This Nov. 18, 2011 photo, shows a Tyson food product, in Montpelier, Vt. Tyson Foods Inc. said Monday, Nov. 21, 2011, its fiscal fourth quarter profit was half of last year's level, as higher grain costs hurt profit margins even as sales and prices rose. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Tyson Foods' net income for the fourth quarter was less than half of what it was last year, the meat producer said Monday, with higher grain costs offsetting better prices and revenue, particularly in its chicken business.

While there were operating income declines of $3 million and $12 million for beef and pork, respectively, that metric tumbled $223 million for chicken, meaning that an operating income of $141 million last year in chicken turned into an operating loss of $82 million in the final quarter of the year.

President and CEO Donnie Smith said he expected chicken supplies to drop next year, giving the company a chance to raise prices and profits.

"I feel confident that we will see progressive improvement throughout the year," Smith told analysts during a conference call. But he warned it could still be months before the chicken division returns to strong profitability. "Our best shot is going to be in the back half" of the year, he said.

All segments are profitable midway through the first fiscal quarter, Smith said.

Tyson posted a net income of $97 million, or 26 cents per share for the final quarter of the year, compared with $213 million, or 57 cents per share, a year ago.

The results fell short of the 31 cents per share that analysts had expected, according to a survey by FactSet. Revenue climbed 13 percent to $8.4 billion, beating expectations for revenue of $8.2 billion.

The company increased prices sharply, with chicken up 5 percent, pork up 13 percent, and beef up 19 percent. Still, profit margins remain under pressure because of higher costs at Tyson, based in Springdale, Ark. That was a shift from previous years, as recently as 2008, when feed costs rose but Tyson was unable to pass along those costs to consumers because of weak demand.

Yet margins are under pressure. The company said its fourth-quarter operating income was 2 percent, compared to 5.3 percent the year before. For the full year, operating income fell to 4 percent from 5.5 percent.

While it was worse than thought in the chicken segment, KeyBanc Capital Markets sees a turnaround in 2012, like Smith.

That is part of the cyclical nature of the business, in which companies cut back on production to counter weak profits.

"It will improve," Jagdale said. "Supply is coming down; that is the main reason."

Net income for the full 2011 fiscal year fell slightly from the year before, in part because of a $675 million jump in feed and ingredient costs.

Grains and beans to feed animals are the most expensive cost to raise chicken, pigs and cattle. Corn hit record highs this summer and other crop prices have shot up as well.

Tyson Foods said it earned $750 million, or $1.97 per share, compared to $780, or $2.06 during the same period last year.

Annual net income was below analyst expectations for net income of $2.01 per share.

Revenue was $32.27 billion, compared with $28.43 billion the year before.

Tyson reported adjusted net income for the year, excluding gains from tax provisions and equity sales, of $1.89 per share. That was below analyst expectations of $1.95 per share.

Revenue will likely be flat during its current fiscal 2012 year and Tyson forecast sales of roughly $34 billion. That was roughly in line with analyst forecasts for revenue of $34.02 billion.

But profits might improve during 2012. Tyson said it expects U.S. meat supplies to fall between 2 percent and 3 percent during the fiscal year, which will help the company raise prices further. Tyson expects to spend between $800 million and $850 million to update its facilities to make them more efficient.

Analysts are expecting net income of $2.13 per share in 2012, and adjusted net income of $2.11. Smith would only say Wednesday that Tyson Foods is expecting "in excess" of $2 per share for the year.

Shares of Tyson Foods rose 1 cent to close at $19.46 Monday amid broader market declines. The stock has traded between $15.46 and $20.12 over the past 52 weeks.

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