UPDATE 2-Hillshire Brands Q1 earnings beat estimates

Thu Nov 1, 2012 2:31pm EDT

* Q1 EPS of $0.51 tops Wall St view of $0.33 a share

* Hillshire stands by its 2013 earnings outlook for now

* Shares up more than 4 percent

Nov 1 (Reuters) - Hillshire Brands Co reported a first-quarter net profit on Thursday that exceeded Wall Street estimates by a wide margin, helped by strength in its retail business, and its shares rose 4.3 percent.

Despite the better-than-expected earnings, Hillshire reiterated its full-year outlook for earnings per share of $1.40 to $1.55, as it waits to see if the trend continues.

The newly independent company, which makes Hillshire Farm lunch meat and Jimmy Dean sausage, said its sales trends were moving in the right direction, its key brands were gaining strength and its costs were coming down.

"While we are pleased with this progress, we recognize that we are only one quarter into our year," said Chief Executive Sean Connolly. "We want to wait for greater visibility into the cost picture and see our momentum continue to develop further before making any changes to our outlook."

Connolly told Reuters the company would reevaluate its forecast as the fiscal year progresses.

JP Morgan analyst Ken Goldman said the renewed forecast was "slightly surprising given the magnitude of the beat, though we think management is just being conservative until it gets better clarity on pork costs."

Chief Financial Officer Maria Henry said commodity costs had come down, but were expected to go back up later in the year. This year's drought in the Midwest caused a surge in corn prices, which led many hog producers to bring animals to market sooner than normal.

That led to a higher supply of meat, which caused prices to fall. In a few months, supplies will be tighter, which should cause prices to go back up, she said.

The company reported net income of $53 million, or 43 cents per share, for its fiscal first quarter ended on Sept. 29, compared with a loss of $220 million, or $1.85 per share, a year earlier, when the company was much larger and called Sara Lee. The year ago number included a loss from discontinued operations of $230 million.

Excluding items, earnings were 51 cents per share in the latest quarter. On that basis, analysts on average were expecting 33 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net sales fell 1.4 percent to $1.01 billion. Stripping away the impact of the businesses sold in the past year, sales would have grown.

Hillshire Brands shares were up $1.13, or 4.3 percent, at $27.14 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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