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ConAgra (CAG) Posts In-Line Q3 Earnings, Lowers Debt

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Premier North American food company ConAgra Foods, Inc. (CAG - Free Report) reported better-than-expected results for third-quarter fiscal 2016 (ended Feb 28, 2016). We believe the negative impact of the strengthening U.S. dollar partially offset the benefits reaped from the company’s cost-reduction strategies and the successful divestiture of its private-level business.

Quarterly earnings came in at 57 cents per share, in line with the Zacks Consensus Estimate. The bottom line, however, exceeded the year-ago tally of 53 cents.

Revenues

ConAgra generated net revenue of $2,924.1 million, up a mere 0.6% year over year.

On a segmental basis, Consumer Foods revenues dipped 2.4% to $1,854.8 million. The decline in sales was primarily due to the unfavorable impact of foreign currency translation and weaker segmental volumes.

Revenues from the Commercial Foods segment increased 6.1% to $1,069.3 million driven by higher sales at the Lamb Weston potato business.

Other Financial Fundamentals

ConAgra’s cost of goods sold was $2,123.7 million, down 2.9% from $2,187.3 million recorded in the year-ago period. Selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses were $489.6 million, up 35.9%. Interest expenses decreased 3.6% to $79.6 million owing to lower debt levels.

Exiting third-quarter fiscal 2016, ConAgra had cash and cash equivalents of $502.6 million, up remarkably from $164.7 million recorded at fiscal 2015 end. Senior long-term debt (excluding current portion) was $4,706.8 million, down 29.7% from $6,693 million recorded as of May 31, 2015.

In third-quarter fiscal 2016, ConAgra generated net cash worth $695.1 million from operating activities, down from $740.5 million earned in third-quarter fiscal 2015. Capital spent on additions of property, plant and equipment totaled $279.7 million, up 16.3%.

During the reported quarter, ConAgra paid dividends worth $323.5 million versus $318.2 million paid in the year-ago comparable period.

Closure of the Private Brands Segment

Earlier, ConAgra had decided to cease operations of its Private Brands segment in order to accelerate commercial growth and maximize shareholders’ value over the long run. At the end of the fiscal third quarter, the company claimed to have generated in excess of $2.6 billion in free cash through the successful divestiture of its private-level business. These proceeds, in turn, have been deployed to lower the company’s debt burden by $2.15 billion and would finance its future capital allocation programs.

Outlook

ConAgra is strategically improving its profitability on the back of greater operational efficiency and an appropriate price/mix. The company anticipates full-year 2016 earnings within the range of $2.05–$2.07 per share.

Stocks to Consider

ConAgra Foods presently carries a Zacks Rank #3 (Hold). Some better-ranked stocks in the industry include Amplify Snack Brands, Inc. (BETR - Free Report) , Darling Ingredients Inc. (DAR - Free Report) and Kellogg Company (K - Free Report) . All the three companies presently have a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

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