Weak third-quarter estimate pressures General Mills shares

by Josh Sosland
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MINNEAPOLIS – Shares of General Mills, Inc. fell 3% in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange March 14 after the company issued more detailed guidance for earnings in the second half of its fiscal year. While reaffirming its full-year earnings forecast of $2.87 to $2.90 per share, the company said U.S. operating profit in the third quarter ended Feb. 23 was down 10% from the same period a year earlier and total company operating profit was off as well. Earnings per share for the quarter were estimated at 60c to 61c. Reconciling the third-quarter update with the unchanged guidance for the full year, General Mills forecast “strong double-digit growth” in fourth-quarter earnings “when the expected rate of input cost inflation, the quarterly tax rate, and the average number of shares outstanding will each be well below prior-year levels.” Still, the weakness in the third quarter appeared to have surprised investors.

In December, after reporting weak earnings in the first half of the year, chairman and chief executive officer Ken Powell suggested a resumption of earnings growth was imminent.

“As we enter the second half of fiscal 2014, we expect our earnings growth to accelerate from first-half levels,” he said at the time. “We like our 2014 innovation and marketing plans, which include a strong slate of new items being introduced in the second half of the year.  We expect our rate of input-cost inflation to ease in the second half.  And last year's growth was weighted toward the first half, making our second-half comparisons easier.”
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