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Maple Leaf Sees Earnings Rise

1 March 2012, at 7:33am

CANADA - Maple Leaf Foods Inc saw full year net earnings reach C$87.3 million compared to C$35.6 million last year.

Net earnings included C$79.8 million of pre-tax costs related to restructuring activities. In 2010 the amount was C$81.1 million.

For the fourth quarter, net earnings were C$9.2 million compared to C$30.6 million (C$0.21 basic earnings per share) last year.

Net earnings included C$32.2 million of pre-tax costs related to restructuring activities compared to C$19.7 million in 2010.

Full year Adjusted Earnings per Share increased by 40 per cent to C$1.01, while fourth quarter Adjusted Earnings per Share decreased to C$0.21 from C$0.27 last year.

"We are very pleased with our results for the year and we remain on track to deliver our earnings and margin growth for 2012 through 2015," said Michael H. McCain, President and CEO.

"We realised strong earnings growth for the year in our protein operations, which contributed to a 40 per cent rise in our adjusted earnings per share.

"However, we experienced a challenging fourth quarter as a result of unseasonably strong raw material costs which impacted continued margin growth in prepared meats.

"We also experienced short term higher operating costs in our bakery business. These factors, combined with lower pork and poultry processing margins from year ago highs, contributed to lower relative performance in the fourth quarter.

"We are now actively passing through pricing to help mitigate these challenges and we remain committed to executing our value creation initiatives."

Sales for the fourth quarter increased three per cent to C$1,245.3 million compared to C$1,212.0 million last year.

After adjusting for the impacts of divestitures and foreign exchange, sales increased by 5 per cent, primarily as a result of higher selling prices. For the full year, sales were C$4,893.6 million, down two per cent from C$4,968.1 million in 2010.

After adjusting for divestitures and foreign exchange, this represented an increase of five per cent.

Adjusted Operating Earnings for the fourth quarter were C$57.4 million compared to C$69.9 million last year, as weaker pork and poultry margins and unexpectedly high meat input costs during the quarter led to lower earnings in the Protein Group.

For the full year, Adjusted Operating Earnings increased 21 per cent, to C$259.0 million compared to C$214.5 million last year, reflecting strong results in the Protein Group.

Adjusted Earnings per Share were C$0.21 in the quarter, compared to C$0.27 last year. For the year, Adjusted Earnings per Share were C$1.01, which included C$12.2 million (C$0.09 per share) of tax adjustments related to a prior acquisition, compared to C$0.73 last year.

Meat Products Group

Meat Products Group sales for the fourth quarter increased by three per cent to C$781.8 million from C$762.6 million in the fourth quarter last year.

After adjusting for the impact of the sale of the Company's Ontario primary pork processing operation and a weaker Canadian dollar, sales increased by five per cent due to higher market prices in fresh pork and price increases and improved sales mix in prepared meats. These benefits were partly offset by lower sales volumes in primary processing, while prepared meats sales volumes were consistent with last year.

Adjusted Operating Earnings in the Meat Products Group for the fourth quarter decreased by 27 per cent to C$27.5 million, compared to C$37.7 million last year, mostly due to lower poultry and pork primary processing margins. Earnings from poultry primary processing operations were significantly lower due to higher live bird costs that peaked during the fourth quarter of 2011, and were not recovered by higher meat values.

Although still at reasonable levels, primary pork processing packer margins in North America were lower than the very significant levels reached in the fourth quarter of 2010. Lower processor margins were partly offset by stronger pork export markets and improved product sales mix.

Fourth quarter earnings in prepared meats were consistent with last year, although the trend of increasing earnings in this business was interrupted in the fourth quarter. While selling prices are seasonally reduced as meat costs typically decline towards year end, fresh meat input costs continued to be unexpectedly high, which impacted margins. Despite the rise in raw material costs compared to last year, the prepared meats business achieved significant earnings growth in 2011, benefiting from increased selling prices, new product innovation and improved sales mix, and early benefits from ongoing simplification of product lines and network consolidation. In the first quarter of 2012, management intends to implement price increases to address higher raw material costs.

For the full year, Adjusted Operating Earnings in the Meat Products Group increased 18 per cent to C$96.0 million compared to C$81.3 million last year, driven by better sales mix and the early benefits of transformation initiatives in the prepared meats business, as well as strong pork processing results earlier in the year.

Agribusiness Group

Sales in the Agribusiness Group increased by 13 per cent to C$63.5 million for the fourth quarter of 2011 compared to C$56.2 million last year, due to higher selling prices for both biodiesel and rendered products. Sales volumes declined slightly in the fourth quarter, primarily in the rendering operations.

Adjusted Operating Earnings in the Agribusiness Group in the fourth quarter were C$14.7 million compared to C$14.9 million last year, as earnings improvements in hog production were offset by lower earnings in by-product recycling operations.

Hog production operations benefited from higher hog prices, while earnings in by-products recycling declined slightly as volumes declined and the strong market values for both bio-diesel and rendered products experienced during most of 2011 began easing.

Adjusted Operating Earnings for the year increased 62 per cent to C$81.9 million compared to C$50.5 million last year, driven by the strong market values for bio-diesel and rendered by-products experienced for most of the year.

Bakery Products Group

Bakery Products Group sales for the fourth quarter increased two per cent to C$400.0 million compared to C$393.3 million last year. After adjusting for the sale of the Company's fresh sandwich product line in February 2011 and currency translation on sales in the US and UK, sales increased four per cent, primarily due to price increases implemented earlier in 2011. This increase was offset slightly by lower sales volumes and a change in sales mix compared to last year.

Adjusted Operating Earnings in the Bakery Products Group for the fourth quarter declined 28 per cent to C$16.1 million, compared to C$22.4 million last year. Margins during the quarter were compressed as price increases implemented earlier in 2011 were not sufficient to fully offset higher raw material and other inflationary costs, primarily in the frozen bakery business. Management intends to implement further price increases in this business commencing in early 2012.

Earnings were also impacted by approximately C$4.0 million of duplicative overhead costs associated with the transition to the Company's new fresh bakery in Hamilton, Ontario, and by approximately C$2.5 million in costs due to supply chain disruptions related to the installation of SAP in the fresh bakery operations in Western Canada.

These additional costs were partly offset by efficiency gains related to network optimization initiatives in the frozen bakery operations, and overall lower selling, general and administrative expenses due to cost reduction initiatives implemented earlier in 2011. The sale of the fresh sandwich product line in the first quarter of 2011 was accretive to earnings.

For the quarter, the Company continued to operate three smaller bakeries in the Greater Toronto Area as it gradually consolidates production at its new fresh bakery in Hamilton, Ontario. During this period the Company is incurring incremental overhead costs, which will be eliminated once all three bakeries are closed. Two of these plants closed in the first quarter of 2012, and the remaining bakery is expected to close in early 2013. The duplicative costs are consistent with management's expectations.

The incremental costs related to the SAP implementation primarily affected the fourth quarter as they were specific to disruptions related to installation of the system in Western Canada, and are not expected to materially impact 2012.

As previously announced, during the fourth quarter of 2011, the fresh bakery business also decommissioned and transferred production from its Delta, B.C., plant, to its other bakeries in Langley, B.C. and Edmonton, Alberta.

During the quarter the Company decided that it will close its bakery in Walsall, UK in early 2012 as part of the transition to optimise the manufacturing of morning goods and specialty bakery products and expects to incur approximately C$12.7 million in pre-tax restructuring and other related costs, C$6.8 million of which will be cash expenses. For the full year, Adjusted Operating Earnings decreased nine per cent to C$86.3 million compared to C$94.4 million last year, largely due to higher input costs that were not fully recovered by price increases.

Subsequent Events

On 1 February 2012, the Company purchased the operations of a poultry farm in Alberta that included a chicken quota. The total purchase price was C$31.1 million paid in cash which will be accounted for as a business combination in accordance with IFRS 3, Business Combinations in the first quarter of 2012. The Company has not yet finalized the allocation of this purchase price.

On 7 February 2012, the Company announced that it will consolidate its further processed poultry operations, closing a facility in Ontario in May 2012, and transferring production to two other Ontario-based facilities. Investments totaling approximately C$6.5 million will be made to support the production transfers. In addition, the Company will incur approximately C$5.6 million before taxes in restructuring costs, of which approximately C$4.2 million are cash costs.

On 7 February 2012, Maple Leaf Foods Inc. declared a dividend of C$0.04 per share payable March 30, 2012 to shareholders of record at the close of business March 12, 2012. Unless indicated otherwise by the Company in writing on or before the time the dividend is paid, the dividend will be considered an Eligible Dividend for the purposes of the "Enhanced Dividend Tax Credit System".