CHICAGO – Kraft Foods Inc. , the largest North American food maker, Tuesday said fourth-quarter earnings rose 34 percent, helped by cost savings from its buyout of cookie maker Nabisco in late 2000, lower interest expense, and strong volume gains.
The maker of Philadelphia cream cheese, Oreo cookies and Oscar Mayer meats said earnings in the period ended Dec. 31, its third as a public company, rose to $556 million, or 32 cents a share, from $416 million, or 24 cents, a year earlier. The results assume that Kraft had owned Nabisco for all of 2000.
Operating revenues rose to $8.76 billion from $6.88 billion a year earlier. Worldwide volumes increased 5.3 percent on a comparable basis, reflecting one less week of shipments in 2001. Volume gains were driven by the introduction of new products and strong growth in developing markets, the company said.
"Things look very much in line and it looks of high quality," said Credit Suisse First Boston analyst David Nelson, who rates Kraft shares a "buy." "We're just not seeing anybody posting volume growth across the industry besides Kraft. This is very impressive."
In the fourth quarter, Northfield, Illinois-based Kraft was expected to earn 30 cents to 33 cents a share, with an average estimate at 32 cents, according to Thomson Financial/First Call, which tracks earnings.
"In the fourth quarter, we achieved a strong increase in earnings, driven by good volume growth across most of our businesses, significant productivity and synergy savings, and lower interest expense," said Co-Chief Executive Betsy Holden, in a statement.
Shares of Kraft, which closed Tuesday at $34.04, up 32 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange, have outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 Index by more than 20 percent since the company went public in June.