UPDATE 3-General Mills profit beats estimates, lifts outlook

Wed Dec 19, 2012 9:06am EST

* Adjusted profit 86 cents/share vs Street view 79 cents

* Sees higher ingredient costs, higher tax rate

* Shares up 1.4 pct in premarket trading

By Martinne Geller

Dec 19 (Reuters) - General Mills Inc posted higher-than-expected quarterly earnings on Wednesday but raised its full-year outlook only slightly as it sees higher ingredient costs, a higher tax rate and a possible currency devaluation in Venezuela.

The foods maker behind Cheerios cereal, Progresso soups and Haagen Dazs ice cream said it expects ingredient cost inflation at the high end of its 2 percent to 3 percent forecast due to the summer drought in the U.S. Midwest that pushed up prices for corn and other grains.

In addition, General Mills expects a higher tax rate in the second half of its fiscal year than in the first half, and it said a currency devaluation was possible in Venezuela.

"As we move into the second half, the global operating environment remains challenging," said Chief Executive Ken Powell.

General Mills shares were up 1.4 percent at $42.35 in premarket trading.

"They took a more cautious outlook," said Morningstar analyst Erin Lash.

In the company's fiscal second quarter, ended Nov. 25, net earnings rose to $541.6 million, or 82 cents per share, from $444.8 million, or 67 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were 86 cents per share, topping analysts' average estimate of 79 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Sales increased nearly 6 percent to $4.88 billion, meeting analysts' expectations, helped by the recently acquired Yoki Alimentos business in Brazil.

The company now expects to earn $2.65 to $2.67 per share in fiscal 2013, excluding accounting adjustments, a tax benefit and restructuring and integration costs. Its earlier forecast called for earnings of about $2.65 per share.

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