ST. LOUIS — Sales and earnings at Post Holdings, Inc. finished lower in fiscal 2019, reflecting the separate capitalization of 8th Avenue Food & Provisions, Inc., the holding company for Post’s historical Private Brands business.
Net income at Post in the year ended Sept. 30 totaled $124.7 million, equal to $1.72 per share on the common stock, down 73% from $467.3 million, or $6.87 per share, in fiscal 2018. Fiscal 2019 results included expense on swaps of $306.6 million ($95.6 million in fiscal 2018). Fiscal 2018 results also included a $270.9 million one-time income tax net benefit and a $31.1 million net loss on extinguishment of debt.
Adjusted net earnings were $368.8 million, which compared with $318.9 million a year ago.
Net sales in fiscal 2019 totaled $5,681.1 million, down 9% from $6,257.2 million.
Operating profit in the company’s Post Consumer Brands segment increased 2% to $337.1 million in fiscal 2019 from $329.2 million a year ago. Net sales increased 2% to $1,875.9 million.
Robert V. Vitale, president and chief executive officer, said during a Nov. 22 conference call with analysts that Post continues to believe it will receive government clearance for its acquisition of the ready-to-eat cereal business of TreeHouse Foods, Inc. The transaction was first announced on May 2 but encountered a setback in mid-July.
“We believe that there is intense competition in the cereal business and that this deal is unambiguously pro-consumer and the efficiencies achieved will allow us to compete more aggressively,” he said. “We are surprised that this combination has received a degree of scrutiny that it has, but we are actively engaging with the F.T.C. (Federal Trade Commission). And we hope to convince the F.T.C. to approve the transaction soon.”
Providing additional color on R.-T.-E. cereal, Mr. Vitale said Post expects the category to remain competitive.
“I think we would be naive to assume that competitors as resourceful and as talented as ours would consistently be shared owners,” he explained. “So, we certainly expect them to be aggressive and vibrant competitors this year and each year. We have had good fortune in the last handful of years. And I think a large part of that good fortune is that we were early in moving into some of the growth year areas around licensed products and that each state has been perhaps overly addressed.”
Going forward, he said Post will need to look at innovation in a bit bolder and broader manner.
“Many of the changes that we have made over the last 18 months, starting with changing leadership all the way to looking at planning processes to free up costs for reinvestment are aimed at driving that category growth, so that it’s real category growth rather than picking up dust within a handful of licensed sweet products,” he said. “But we look at that as an ongoing, both challenge and opportunity and fully expect each, if not all, of our key competitors to be highly engaged and to compete for share. I would tell you that not all share is created equal. So that we look at trying to make sure that we have focused our competitive activities on fighting for the right share rather than each year.”
In the Weetabix business, segment profit climbed to $94.8 million from $87.2 million, while sales decreased to $418.2 million from $423.4 million.
Operating profit in the Foodservice segment increased 26% to $198.4 million from $157.6 million, while sales improved 5% to $1,627.4 million from $1,548.2 million.
“I would assume that the outlook for Michael (Foods) looks a lot like the recent past for Michael — that it’s consistent steady growth,” Mr. Vitale said. “This is not a business that should see major step-ups. It’s a business that, given our considerable position in the categories we’re in, grows steadily as we drive demand within the categories.
“As it relates to the ramp-up tied to Norwalk (Conn.), just logistically, what we will do is first fill Norwalk, where we have better cost because it’s a newer facility, that will deleverage some of our older facilities as we backfill them. So, there will be a margin pickup, but it won’t be as full as it will be once the entire system remains or is returned to optimal capacity, just a step function of a new factory.”
The 150,000-square-foot Michael Foods’ facility in Norwalk opened on Oct. 3.
Operating profit in the Refrigerated Retail segment increased to $95.1 million from $90 million a year ago. Sales in the segment also improved, climbing 15% to $907.3 million from $790.9 million.
Operating profit in the Active Nutrition segment totaled $175.1 million, up 41% from $124.4 million in fiscal 2018. Sales increased 3% to $854.4 million from $827.5 million. Post renamed its Active Nutrition business BellRing Brands, Inc. earlier this fall. Going forward BellRing Brands will have its own Securities and Exchange Commission filings, earnings releases and conference calls, Post said.
Mr. Vitale said Post generated $688 million in operating cash flow in fiscal 2019 and invested approximately $270 million in internal capital projects. The company also repurchased 3.3 million shares of common stock for $331 million. He said the company expects a similar approach to capital allocation in fiscal 2020, which earmarks free cash flow toward investment in shares, mergers and acquisitions, or debt reduction.