* Q4 adj EPS 52 cents, matches average Wall Street forecast
* Sales $3.63 bln; Wall Street expected $3.67 bln
* Sees FY 2012 EPS $2.60-$2.62; Wall Street expected $2.67
* Shares down 2.4 pct (Adds analyst comment, 2011 inflation forecast)
By Martinne Geller
NEW YORK, June 29 (Reuters) - General Mills Inc (GIS.N) forecast weaker fiscal-year earnings than Wall Street expected as the food company gets hammered by higher costs for ingredients and fuel.
The maker of Cheerios cereal and Progresso soups, whose shares fell nearly 2 percent in premarket trading, said it expects costs to rise 10 percent to 11 percent in its fiscal year 2012, which began May 30. That is more than double the inflation it had forecast for the previous year.
As a result, General Mills forecast fiscal 2012 earnings per share of $2.60 to $2.62 excluding special items, up from $2.48 in fiscal 2011.
Analysts on average were expecting $2.67, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
“We believe the operating environment in many developed markets will remain challenging over the next 12 months,” General Mills Chief Executive Ken Powell said in a statement
He said the company’s full-year plan assumes volume will be lower, with mid-single-digit sales growth driven by price increases, new products and marketing initiatives.
Jefferies analyst Scott Mushkin said the inflation forecast is the highest seen so far in the sector and noted that higher prices will lead to volume declines. He also said price increases will not be enough to fully offset the cost inflation.
For the just-ended fourth quarter, General Mills on Wednesday posted net income of $320.2 million, or 48 cents per share, up from $211.9 million, or 31 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding the impact of one-time items, earnings were 52 cents per share, matching analysts’ average estimate, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Sales rose to $3.63 billion from $3.53 billion. Analysts were expecting $3.67 billion.
Volume fell 4 percent due to fewer discounts compared with the year-earlier period. Price increases and selling a greater proportion of higher-priced items added 6 percentage points of sales growth, while foreign exchange rates added 1 percentage point.
In the U.S. retail segment, sales fell 2 percent as the benefit of price increases was offset by a 6 percent decline in volume. Internationally, sales grew 16 percent.
General Mills shares fell to $36.30 in premarket trading from a close at $37.21 on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Dave Zimmerman and John Wallace)