UPDATE 1-JP Morgan starts coverage of 3 U.S. chicken producers

Mon Sep 22, 2008 8:49am EDT

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Sept 22 (Reuters) - J.P. Morgan Securities said it saw too many risks for the U.S. chicken industry and cited concerns about a slowdown in domestic demand, while initiating coverage of three chicken producers, including Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N).

Analyst Ken Goldman started Tyson, the largest U.S. meat producer, with an "overweight" rating. He initiated smaller rivals Sanderson Farms Inc (SAFM.O), the No. 4 U.S. chicken producer, with an "underweight" rating and Pilgrim's Pride Corp PPC.N, the No. 1 chicken producer, with "neutral."

The analyst said he expects chicken exports to suffer if the dollar strengthens and if Russia limits chicken imports.

"We wonder not only whether production cuts will be sustained but also if they are sufficient to drive margins back to historical norms," Goldman wrote in a note to clients.

Russia is the biggest market for U.S. poultry exporters. The United States last year exported nearly $1 billion worth of poultry, mainly frozen chicken leg quarters, and other meat products to Russia.

Goldman said he was more pessimistic about Pilgrim's Pride's near-term fundamentals than Tyson's as the latter is less tethered to chicken, relative to its peers, and has large, profitable pork and beef businesses.

Pilgrim's Pride, however, has a solid business model and is poised for continued growth in the longer-term, he added.

Goldman expects Sanderson Farms to be hurt, more than Pilgrim's or Tyson, by the risks surrounding the chicken industry. About 25 percent of Sanderson's exports go to Russia, he noted.

"If Russia follows through on its threats to cut chicken imports from the U.S., Sanderson would have to find new homes for a larger percent of meat than its peers," he said.

Goldman expects Tyson to earn 41 cents a share in the fourth quarter. He forecast a loss of 56 cents a share for Pilgrim's Pride and a loss of 34 cents a share for Sanderson during the quarter. (Reporting by Arup Roychoudhury in Bangalore; Editing by Himani Sarkar) (arup.roychoudhury@thomsonreuters.com; within U.S. +1 646 223 8780; outside U.S. +91 80 4135 5800; Reuters Messaging: arup.roychoudhury.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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