UPDATE 3-Mead Johnson lowers '12 sales goal as China cools

Thu Jul 26, 2012 11:58am EDT

* Q2 adj profit 83 cents/share vs Street view 76 cents

* Affirms 2012 profit forecast but lowers sales growth target

* Shares down 1.8 percent

By Martinne Geller

July 26 (Reuters) - Mead Johnson Nutrition Co, maker of Enfamil baby formula, trimmed its full-year sales target on Thursday as growth in China cools, helping to send its shares down 1.8 percent.

In addition, the company left its 2012 profit forecast unchanged despite a better-than-expected second quarter that was helped by improvements in the United States.

In the second quarter, most markets in Asia and Latin America saw double-digit sales growth. But growth in the back half of the year should ease, Mead Johnson said, due to a slowdown in China and a decline in the company's market share.

The company blamed price increases it put into the market during the spring and aggressive promotions by a competitor. It said the pressure should continue in the current third quarter, but that its share should strengthen in the fourth quarter.

The company said its Asia and Latin America segment should grow at a mid-teens percentage rate this year, which is a little bit down from the high teens rate it had earlier forecast.

"The reduction to China growth expectations has negative valuation implications, but we believe much of this was priced into the stock ahead of the quarter," said RBC Capital Markets analyst Edward Aaron.

Through Wednesday, Mead Johnson shares had tumbled nearly 18 percent since touching a lifetime high on June 22, as concerns mounted about the impact on the company of an economic slowdown in China.

China is a big and important market for Mead Johnson, and two analysts have already lowered their price targets on the stock, citing uncertainty about that market.

For 2012, Mead Johnson said it now expects sales growth of 8 percent to 9 percent, instead of the 9 percent to 11 percent it forecast earlier.

It stood by its full-year profit target, which calls for $3.04 to $3.14 per share, excluding one-time items. Analysts on average were expecting $3.13, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

For the second quarter, Mead Johnson said net income was $165.8 million, or 81 cents per share, up from $132.1 million, or 64 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were 83 cents per share, topping analysts' average estimate of 76 cents.

Net sales rose to $1.01 billion from $932 million.

In North America and Europe, sales were flat. That represents a significant improvement from the 11 percent decline the company saw in the first quarter. For the full year, the company expects sales in this segment to be down at a low- to mid-single digit rate, which is a little bit better than its earlier forecast.

Mead Johnson shares were down $1.28, or 1.8 percent, to $71.70 in midday trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

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