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Ardent Mills results offset Conagra’s inflation headwinds

CHICAGO — Ardent Mills in the third quarter of fiscal 2022 built on positive momentum generated earlier in the year, according to a Form 10-Q filed by Conagra Brands, Inc. April 7 with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Conagra equity method earnings in the quarter ended Feb. 27, 2022, were $48.1 million, up 124% from $21.5 million in the third quarter of fiscal 2021.  In the first three quarters of fiscal 2022, Conagra, which owns 44% of the Ardent Mills joint venture with Cargill and CHS, Inc., had equity investment earnings of $97.8 million, up 92% from the $51 million in the same period of fiscal 2021.

“Ardent Mills earnings for the third quarter and first three quarters of fiscal 2022 reflected favorable market conditions, including the joint venture’s effective management through the recent volatility in the wheat markets,” Conagra said in the filing.

In a conference call April 7 about Conagra Brands financial results, Sean M. Connolly, president and chief executive officer, said the strong Ardent Mills performance was pivotal in allowing Conagra to reach its third quarter earnings per share (EPS) guidance despite severe inflationary headwinds.

“Ultimately, we landed Q3 EPS a bit differently than we previously anticipated, but we did get there,” he said. “Our adjusted Q3 EPS actualized in line with our expectations, above forecasted performance, and our Ardent Mills joint venture offset incremental Q3 inflation headwinds.”

David Marberger

 David S. Marberger, executive vice president and chief financial officer, also cited the Ardent Mills performance as a key positive for Conagra in the third quarter. He said third-quarter results for Conagra benefited from “a lower weighted average interest rate on outstanding debt and by a very strong quarter from Ardent Mills.”

The improvement in Ardent Mills results will drop 3¢ per share on the common stock more to Conagra’s bottom line in fiscal 2022 than a year earlier, he said. The company is projecting earnings per share for the year of $2.35 on an adjusted and diluted basis.

Mr. Marberger estimated market inflation was 15.4% during the third quarter and shaved 10.6 percentage points from Conagra’s operating margin.

“Given the nature of Ardent’s business, it can benefit from volatile market conditions,” he said. “Although Ardent income is recorded below operating margin in our financial statements, it is a cash-generating business that has performed well in this highly inflationary environment.”