Earnings: General Mills

General Mills Profit Falls 52 Percent

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Food company General Mills Inc. (GIS) Thursday said quarterly profit fell 52 percent from a year earlier, when it recorded a big gain from selling some businesses, and forecast profit for the current fiscal year that was slightly below Wall Street forecasts.

The maker of Cheerios cereal, Yoplait yogurt and Progresso soup said profit for the fourth quarter that ended on May 28 was $222 million, or 61 cents a share, compared with $460 million, or $1.14 a share, a year earlier.

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The results were in line with analysts forecasts, according to Reuters Estimates.

Last year's results include a gain from the sale of the company's 40.5 percent interest in Snack Ventures Europe and the Lloyd's barbecue business.

General Mills, like others in the food industry, has struggled with higher costs for commodities such as sugar, soybeans and energy. But analysts have said that recent data had shown the company posting sales and market share gains in many of its categories.

Net sales for the fourth quarter of 2006 grew 5 percent to $2.85 billion, driven by a 3 percent unit volume increase. Analysts, on average, expected sales of $2.81 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

For the fourth quarter, U.S. retail net sales grew 5 percent to nearly $1.9 billion, unit volume rose 3 percent, and operating profits increased 8 percent to $408 million. Advertising spending for the company's U.S. retail businesses rose 8 percent in the just-ended fiscal year, including a $28 million increase in the fourth quarter.

For the current fiscal year, General Mills said it expects earnings in the range of $3.03 to $3.08 per share, including an estimated 11 cents to 12 cents in costs from expensing stock options. Analysts, on average, expected $3.09, according to Reuters Estimates.

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