General Mills plots dividend, buyback expansion

Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- General Mills, maker of breakfast staples such as Cheerios cereal and Yoplait yogurt, backed its 2013 earnings forecast on Tuesday and said it plans to improve its profitability in the following fiscal year and return more cash to shareholders.

"We see stronger growth in our immediate future," Ken Powell, the company's chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

The Minneapolis-based company recently completed two years of significant investment to help strengthen its business in the core U.S. market and expand its international reach. Powell said the company's focus now is on executing well across the entire company.

The food maker pointed to a strong line-up of products, including new yogurt items and new cereals, as drivers for growth in the U.S. It also said it expects its revenue from international operations to exceed $5 billion in fiscal 2013, helped by recent acquisitions.

General Mills said it still expects to earn between $2.65 and $2.67 per share for the 2013 fiscal year. Analyst polled by FactSet, on average, have forecast earnings of $2.90 per share for the year. The company said it expects its earnings per share to increase in the high single-digit percentage range for its 2014 fiscal year.

Chief Financial Officer Don Mulligan said that General Mills will also return more cash to shareholders in 2014 through both increased share repurchases and dividend growth. The company expects buybacks will reduce the average number of shares outstanding by 2 percent in fiscal 2014.

General Mills currently has an estimated 646.6 million shares outstanding.

The company made the announcements in conjunction with a presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York investor conference.

Shares of General Mills increased 84 cents to close at $45.43. That's a new annual trading high for the company. Its stock had traded between $36.75 and $44.62 during the past 52 weeks.