OMAHA — Insights into the financial ramifications for ConAgra Foods, Inc. of the formation of Ardent Mills L.L.C. were offered in the company’s financial results issued June 26. While the company will record a gain of more than half a billion dollars in connection with the transaction, fiscal 2015 earnings from the j.v. are expected to be lower than ConAgra Mills’ profits in fiscal year 2014.
The joint venture was formed May 29, just after the end of the ConAgra Foods fourth quarter (ended May 26). A partnership with Cargill and CHS Inc., ConAgra contributed its milling operations to Ardent in exchange for cash proceeds and a 44% interest in the company.
Comments about the Ardent impact were sprinkled through the financial results and in comments by top ConAgra executives. Gary Rodkin, the company’s chief executive officer, expressed his continued optimism about Ardent and its prospective benefits for ConAgra.
“The Ardent Mills j.v. will allow us to take part in financial gains of a more efficient milling business without the sales volatility of a commodity oriented business in our base results,” Mr. Rodkin said. “I am very confident that this will be a long-term strategic win that will enhance ConAgra Foods’ shareholder value over time. As a reminder, we have 44% interest in Ardent Mills. Long term, we expect good accretion from this important portfolio move, making this a financially and strategically sound transaction.”
Nearer term, though, the transaction is not expected to be accretive to ConAgra earnings. In fact, flour milling is expected to contribute significantly less to ConAgra Foods profits in fiscal 2015 than in 2014, the company said.
“ConAgra Foods expects to earn approximately 7c to 9c less per diluted share (the company has about 428 million shares outstanding in fiscal 2015 from Ardent Mills, including the benefit of lower interest expense from allocating Ardent-related proceeds toward debt reduction, than it earned in fiscal 2014 from its milling operations, on a comparable basis,” the company said.
Beginning in 2015, ConAgra Foods said it will adopt a new accounting standard it expects to result in reclassifying the milling operations as “discontinued operations,” which will change the presentation of prior periods. Going forward, ConAgra said its share of Ardent Mills’ profits will be “reflected pre-tax within equity method investment earnings.”
John Gehring, chief financial officer, said fiscal 2015 earnings will reflect only 11 months of earnings “due to the transition to new accounting periods for Ardent Mills.” The largest figure in connection with the Ardent transaction, though, is the gain the company will record in its first-quarter results. The one month shortfall is a contributing factor to the lower flour milling earnings expected for fiscal 2015, the company said.
“In connection with the formation of Ardent Mills, in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015 we received proceeds from the sales of three mills and distributions from Ardent Mills, which totaled approximately $569 million, or about $527 million after estimated tax liability,” Mr. Gehring said. “As we have previously discussed, we expect to use the proceeds primarily to accelerate our debt repayment and to increase our target to approximately $2 billion by the end of 2015.”
Even before receiving the proceeds for the sale of the three mills, ConAgra Foods in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2014 recorded a gain in connection with the transaction, which was completed to satisfy regulatory concerns related to the Ardent transaction. Three ConAgra mills and one Cargill mill were sold to Miller Milling Co. for $215 million.ConAgra said its Commercial Foods segment recorded a gain of approximately $91 million pre-tax, or 13c per share, related to the sale of its three mills, located in Oakland, Calif.; Saginaw, Texas; and New Prague, Minn.