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ConAgra Earnings Top Forecasts

OMAHA, Neb. - ConAgra Foods, Inc.'s quarterly earnings rose 14.5 percent as a result of lower costs and strong growth in several of its retail brands.

The company said it earned $270.1 million, or 51 cents a diluted share, in the fiscal second quarter ended Nov. 23, compared with $235.8 million, or 44 cents, in the same period last year.

Results in the most recent quarter include a charge of 4 cents a share related to the discontinued operations of United Agri Products (UAP).

Sales for the company's fiscal second quarter were $3.9 billion, $578 million less than last year; operating profit was $501 million for the second quarter, $5 million less than last year.

Sales and operating profit comparisons reflect the strategic divestiture of noncore businesses during the prior fiscal year, according to the company, which said sales and operating results for current and prior year reflect the reclassification of chicken processing and UAP as discontinued operations.

According to Bruce Rohde, chairman and c.e.o.: "Our team's accomplishments this fiscal year have been significant. As planned, we completed the strategic reshaping of the company by divesting our last two significant noncore businesses -- chicken processing and UAP. ConAgra Foods is well positioned for the future, and our focus is on creating shareholder value through improved profit margins and returns on capital with branded and value-added food products."

As part of ConAgra's plan to redeploy capital, Rohde said the company recently announced a $1 billion share repurchase program to complete an efficient reallocation of resources.

"Our overall EPS results in the second quarter and first half were solid and on target. Overall operating trends for the second half of 2004 are expected to show strength, driven by a strong fourth-quarter performance, due to operations improvements within our supply chain and administrative functions, and also favorably impacted by marketing initiatives we have underway," Rohde noted.

On Nov. 23 the company sold UAP, its U.S. and Canadian crop inputs business, which resulted in reclassifying the Agricultural Products segment as discontinued operations. The company also has operating efficiency initiatives underway that are intended to improve the company's cost structure, margins, and competitive position.

As part of its migration from commodity products toward higher-margin retail foods, ConAgra also sold its poultry operations, the last of its agricultural meat units.
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