* Adj EPS C$0.27 vs C$0.19 year ago
* Revenue C$1.21 bln vs C$1.32 bln year ago
* Plant sale hit revenue; higher prices lift profit
* Shares rise 1.5 pct
* To pay dividend of C$0.04 per share (Adds details about dividend, annual profit)
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Maple Leaf Foods Inc (MFI.TO), one of Canada’s biggest food processors, posted a higher quarterly profit on Thursday, overcoming rising wheat and meat costs by cutting elsewhere and raising its own prices.
Shares of Toronto-based Maple Leaf, a leading pork processor and baker, marketing Schneider’s brand meats and Dempster’s bread, climbed 1.5 percent.
The quarter looked “very, very positive,” said analyst Robert Gibson of Octagon Capital. Earnings per share slightly exceeded trade expectations although revenue fell short.
Minneapolis spring wheat futures spiked more than 60 percent in 2010 due largely to crop failures, while Chicago hog futures climbed by more than a third, pushing costs higher for food processors like Maple Leaf.
The company has already passed along some of those costs to consumers, while cost-cutting also added to the bottom line, said Chief Executive Michael McCain.
The closure of some meat plants, starting with two in Nova Scotia and British Columbia, looks to boost meat profit margins in 2011, along with price increases in prepared meats, the company said.
Earnings for the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 rose by more than one-third to C$30.2 million ($30.8 million).
Adjusted for restructuring and other costs, earnings per share were 27 Canadian cents versus 19 Canadian cents in the year-earlier period.
Analysts, on average, had forecast earnings per share of 26 Canadian cents on revenue of C$1.31 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Not including adjustments, earnings per share were 22 Canadian cents, up from 16 cents.
The company also said it will pay a dividend of 4 Canadian cents per share on March 31.
Profits rose even though Maple Leaf’s sale of its Burlington, Ontario, pork plant held back revenue, which fell 9 percent to C$1.21 billion. The lower revenue figure also reflected an additional week in the fourth quarter a year earlier.
A deadly meat recall in 2008 hammered the company’s shares and earnings, but last year it launched an ambitious plan to rebuild profits by modernizing some plants and closing others.
Maple Leaf made peace earlier this year with its second-largest shareholder by giving West Face Capital greater influence, including a seat on the board, amid ongoing investor concerns about a tepid performance by its shares.
The company’s yearly profit came in at about half of the previous year’s level, at C$25.8 million, after the company took more than C$70 million in charges during 2010.
Maple Leaf shares were up 1.5 percent, or 17 Canadian cents at C$11.58 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
$1=$0.98 Canadian Reporting by Rod Nickel; editing by Rob Wilson