Strong sales, tax gain propel profit at Mondelēz

by Eric Schroeder
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DEERFIELD, ILL. — Solid sales helped spur a surge in earnings at Mondelēz International, Inc. in the third quarter, but lower coffee prices and a slowdown in emerging-market snack sales tempered enthusiasm at the Deerfield-based company, prompting Mondelēz to lower its full-year forecast for organic net revenue to about 4%, down from the prior view of growth at “the low end” of a range of 5% to 7%.

Net income in the third quarter ended Sept. 30 was $1,024 million, equal to 58c per share on the common stock, up 57% from $652 million, or 37c per share, in the same quarter in 2012. Net sales were $8,472 million, up 1.8% from $8,326 million.

“We delivered solid results in a difficult environment,” said Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and chief executive officer. “Both revenue and operating margin improved sequentially, fueled by volume/mix gains of more than 5%, double-digit growth in emerging markets and increased global market shares. Weak biscuit performance in China, continued headwinds from coffee pricing and slower global category growth, however, led to revenue growth below our expectations.”

Operating income in North America was $301 million, up 11% (on an adjusted basis) from $272 million in the third quarter in 2012. Sales were $1,797 million, up 2.4% from $1,755 million. The sales gain broke down as 2% from volume and mix, and 0.4% in price.

“U.S. biscuits continued to perform well with revenues up at least 5% for the ninth consecutive quarter,” Dave Brearton, chief financial officer, said in a Nov. 6 conference call with analysts. “Most of this growth was due to volume/mix, behind strong execution by our direct-store delivery sales force. Oreo was up double digits in the quarter and year-to-date on the strength of base s.k.u.s (stock-keeping units) as well as innovations such as Birthday Cake and Mega Stuf. U.S. biscuits continued to gain market share as well, up 100 basis points in Q3 and 110 points year-to-date.”

Mondelēz did struggle in Asia Pacific, where operating income in the third quarter fell 59% to $91 million from $221 million. Sales were down 0.1% at $1,229 million. Specifically, operations in China challenged Mondelēz.

“It’s no secret that China’s G.D.P. (gross domestic product) growth has slowed from north of 9% in 2011 to about 7.5% this year,” Ms. Rosenfeld said during the conference call. “The macro slowdown is affecting consumption across most consumer goods, and our biscuit category is no exception, dropping from the 18% growth in 2012 to 3% in Q1. As we observed a sharp slowdown, we invested to stimulate category growth. We increased marketing and sales support behind Oreo and Chips Ahoy!. We launched Golden Oreo, which has been highly successful in other markets.

“From a share standpoint, these investments worked with shares up for both Oreo and Chips Ahoy!, and the launch of Golden Oreo was also successful, with product placement in over 500,000 outlets in just six weeks.”

But Ms. Rosenfeld said the incremental investments did not stimulate sustainable category growth.

“After an initial increase in Q2, the biscuit category was up only 2% in Q3,” she said. “Second, as we shifted spending to our Power Brands, our second-tier brands lost more share than expected. While our trade stock targets were appropriate for double-digit growth, they became excessive when the category slowed. We’ve taken a number of actions to address the situation. We’re reducing and closely monitoring trade stocks while shoring up our analytical capabilities to get more and better data in real time. This will allow our newly appointed leadership to quickly address changes in the marketplace.

“Looking ahead, with an extensive multi-tiered network of nearly 1,000 distributors, it will take some time to recalibrate trade inventories and regain biscuit momentum. We expect biscuit revenue in China to remain soft in Q4, while progressively improving next year.”

Despite the near-term headwinds, Ms. Rosenfeld said Mondelēz remains optimistic about the future of China.

“From 2009 to 2012, organic revenue grew 25% annually,” she said. “The economy and the biscuit category will recover, and our gum business continues to grow nicely in a very robust category.”

Outside of China, Ms. Rosenfeld cited a slowdown in most other global categories. She said that while they still are growing in excess of other food categories, it will affect the company’s near- to mid-term growth aspirations.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, net income was $2,208 million, or $1.24 per share, down 12% from $2,494 million, or $1.40 per share, in the same period a year ago. Net sales increased 1.1% to $25,811 million from $25,520 million. Operating income increased 11% to $2,961 million from $2,678 million.
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