Saputo's shares down as company forecasts 'temporary' consumer demand slowdown

Saputo's shares down

Shares in Saputo Inc. closed down by 11 per cent Friday after the company's chief executive cautioned negative consumer sentiment could dampen the outlook for the start of its 2024 fiscal year.

Speaking to analysts about the Montreal-based dairy company's fourth-quarter results, president and chief executive Lino A. Saputo said he felt confident about delivering on the company's promises in the year ahead, but warned that it could face rough waters early on.

"What we've seen since the beginning of this fiscal year, and we're talking about six, seven weeks, the tone in the markets are a bit more cautious and I would say somewhat uncertain," he told analysts on the earnings call.

Despite major dairy producing countries not seeing an overcapacity of volume, consumer sentiment "has turned somewhat negative" to start the fiscal year, Saputo said.

"We believe that this is a temporary situation, that consumer demand, not just domestically but globally, will return and once it does return we will have the infrastructure to be able to derive the value that we had originally anticipated," he said.

He also noted China's opening has occurred slower than expected, which has impacted commodity prices.

"China is a huge consumer of dairy products and has an impact on the global market and the global pricing," Saputo said.

RBC Dominion Securities analyst Irene Nattel said despite "encouraging signs" in the results, extreme dairy market volatility since the start of the company's 2024 first quarter "gives us pause."

"With muddled visibility on both global macro and commodity backdrops, in our view, shares are likely to be stuck in a range until visibility improves meaningfully," she said in an analyst note.

Saputo credited pricing initiatives, strong international markets and favourable commodity prices for what he called a solid fourth quarter in 2023. 

Its net earnings for the fourth quarter amounted to $159 million, up from $37 million a year earlier. Revenue for the quarter ended March 31 totalled $4.5 billion, up from $4.0 billion in the same quarter last year. 

Diluted earnings per share were 38 cents, up from nine cents a year earlier. 

Net earnings for the full financial year were $755 million, up from $485 million, while revenues rose to $17.8 billion from $15.0 billion. 

Saputo saw strong consumer demand despite navigating "a difficult and volatile environment with ongoing inflation and supply chain disruptions."

"We capitalized on this strong demand with better supply chain performance enabling us to recover from a challenging fiscal 2022," he told analysts.

Saputo shares ended down $3.89 at $30.93 Friday afternoon. 

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