Heinz 4Q Hurt by Charges, Commodity Costs

Heinz (NYSE:HNZ) cooked up better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit on Thursday, led by double-digit growth in emerging markets and steady demand for Ketchup, however sales fell short of expectations.

The Pittsburgh-based food giant also raised its annual dividend by 14 cents, or 7.3%, a share to $2.06. However, its share slipped more than 2% early in the session on higher costs that softened its operating margins.

In a statement, Heinz CEO William Johnson said the quarterly profit beat was supported by “increased investments in marketing, productivity and emerging markets capabilities."

The company increased promotional spending by 7.7% during the quarter and saw higher commodity costs, which caused gross margin to slip 150 points to 34.8%.

Heinz also forecast earnings for the fiscal year whose midpoint was below Wall Street expectations. The company sees earnings for fiscal 2013 in the range of $3.52 to $3.62 a share, while analysts are looking for $3.59.

The maker of packaged foods and condiments reported fourth-quarter net income of $175 million, or 54 cents, compared with a year-earlier $223.8 million, or 69 cents. Excluding one-time restructuring charges, Heinz said it earned 81 cents a share, ahead of average analyst estimates of 70 cents in a Thomson Reuters poll.

Sales for the three-month period grew 5.6% to $3.05 billion, marking the company’s 28th consecutive quarter of organic sales growth, from $2.9 billion a year ago. But they missed the Street’s view of $3.07 billion.

The year-over-year improvements were led by 17% organic sales growth in emerging markets, helped by the acquisition of Quero in Brazil and the expansion of Master soy sauce in China and Complan nutritional beverage in India.

Global Ketchup revenues climbed 8.3% on higher prices and volumes.