September 11, 2009 / 1:21 PM / in 9 years

UPDATE 3-Campbell Soup net down 22 pct but earnings beat Street

* Q4 EPS 30 cents ex-items vs Wall St 26 cents view

* Sees FY 2010 EPS up 5-7 pct from 2009’s $2.22

* Shares inch lower (Recasts, adds analyst’s comment, company comment)

By Brad Dorfman

CHICAGO, Sept 11 (Reuters) - Campbell Soup Co’s (CPB.N) quarterly net profit fell 22 percent due to commodity hedging, a stronger U.S. dollar, a shorter quarter and write-downs for European trademarks, but earnings before items exceeded Wall Street expectations.

The company, known for its canned soup with the red and white label, forecast that earnings for the current year would also beat analysts’ expectations.

Campbell’s earnings were announced the same week that Kraft Foods Inc KFT.N disclosed an offer to acquire British chocolate maker Cadbury CBRY.L, sparking renewed speculation about other consolidation in the food industry.

During a conference call with analysts, Campbell’s Chief Executive Douglas Conant reiterated his belief in “the power” of food companies that were focused on a few core categories, rather than larger, more diversified companies.

“I think we are better positioned to deliver our numbers and to create shareholder value in the near-term and long-term just the way we are positioned today,” he said.

“There are several companies that are looking to improve their performance in the near-term, and they may make some decisions that I might not make,” he said.

Net profit was $69 million, or 20 cents a share, compared with $89 million, or 24 cents, a year earlier.

Operating earnings rose to 30 cents a share in the fiscal fourth quarter, ended Aug. 2, from 26 cents a year earlier. This excludes changes in market value of commodity hedges and the writedown for European trademarks.

On that basis, analysts, on average, had forecast 26 cents a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

“Overall, their portfolio caters to a consumer that is eating more at home,” Morningstar analyst Erin Swanson said.

She said that Campbell’s forecast for earnings was in line with its longer-term targets.

Fourth-quarter sales fell 11 percent to $1.53 billion due to the stronger dollar and having 13 weeks in the 2009 quarter instead of the 14 weeks in the 2008 quarter.

Excluding the impact of currency, the extra week and acquisitions and divestitures, sales were up 2 percent, the company said.

Sales of condensed soups rose 4 percent in the United States, while ready-to-serve soups rose 14 percent. Prego pasta sauce sales also rose, the company said.

Campbell forecast a 5 percent to 7 percent rise in earnings in the current fiscal year from the adjusted $2.22 a share reported for fiscal 2009.

That would be equal to about $2.33 to $2.38 a share. analysts on average forecast $2.31 a share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Campbell’s shares were down 12 cents to $33.00 on the New York Stock Exchange in early afternoon trading. (Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by John Wallace, Dave Zimmerman)

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