"I have a secret desire
Hiding deep in my soul
It sets my heart afire
To see me in this role
I wanna be a producer"
Accountant Leo Bloom, tempted by the high life of Broadway, sang these wistful lyrics in the hit comedy "The Producers."
Cereal and convenience food maker Kellogg Co. (NYSE:K) might well wish to be a producer nowadays. Oh, Kellogg produces stuff all right, but in the grand scheme of things, the company is a user, not a producer, of farm products.
Kellogg said Monday that third-quarter earnings rose 9 percent, thanks largely to rising international sales. The company earned 76 cents per share, up from year-ago results of 70 cents per share and beating Street forecasts of 73 cents per share.
Kellogg pulled off this positive earnings surprise despite rising input and throughput costs (corn, wheat, dairy and fuel, in particular). Kellogg raised its prices more than 3 percent year-over-year in compensation with more than half of the increases coming in the third quarter.
Despite the profit news, Kellogg shares sold off more than 3 percent in post-announcement trading as investors looked ahead to 2008. Kellogg issued preliminary guidance that full-year 2008 earnings ought to come in between $2.92 and $2.97 per share, short of analysts' $3.04 consensus.
Over the past 12 months, Kellogg's share price has gained a less-than-stellar 6 percent.
It's a far different story for farm product producer Bunge Limited (NYSE:BG). Bunge's a triple-threat producer engaged in agribusiness, fertilizer and food lines. It's companies like Bunge that supply Kellogg's with raw and processed ingredients used in the manufacture of Frosted Flakes and Keebler cookies.
Bunge's stock has been a solid performer over the past year, rising 85 percent. For producers like Bunge, run-ups in commodity prices flow, more or less, directly to the bottom line. When Bunge's third-quarter results were released last Thursday, earnings doubled to $2.70 per share from $1.40 a year earlier, blowing past Street estimates of $1.78.
But the bloom (Leo Bloom?) may be off Bunge's rose, as far as the sell side is concerned. Both HSBC Securities and BMO Capital Markets have downgraded Bunge's stock to "neutral" or "market perform" ratings, citing full valuation.