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Tyson Foods' profits likely to heighten concerns over high US meat prices

07 February 2022

Tyson Foods will post the results for its beef business later today

Tyson Foods Inc is expected to post strong results for its beef business in a quarterly earnings report on Monday, as the Biden administration's criticism of high meat prices and fat profits for processors continues to mount.

According to Reuters, increased operating margins could attract more unwanted scrutiny from Washington for Tyson and three other industry behemoths that slaughter about 85% of grain-fattened cattle carved into steaks for consumers, analysts said.

The Biden administration, concerned about rising prices, said it plans to spend $1 billion and issue new rules to address a lack of "meaningful competition" in meat processing.

Arun Sundaram, senior equity research analyst for CFRA Research, estimates margins for Tyson's beef unit reached 16% in October to December 2021 - the first quarter of Tyson's financial year - due to higher meat prices. Margins were 13.2% a year earlier, when the unit reported quarterly sales of nearly $4 billion.

Analysts expect Tyson's quarterly revenue from all its units including beef to come in at $12.177 billion, up 16% from a year earlier, according to Refinitiv Eikon.

The company is caught between its responsibility to boost profits for shareholders and the risk of increased government scrutiny, Sundaram said.

"I think they're in a tough spot," he said.

Tyson said meat prices increased due to market factors including the pandemic and severe weather and that the company raised prices to combat inflation.

In the quarter that ended on 2 October, Tyson said average beef prices soared 32.7% and the unit's operating margins were 22.9%.

Ben Bienvenu, Stephens Inc managing director of food and agribusiness, estimated Tyson's beef margins were up 15% in the latest quarter amid robust demand.

"There's been a willingness of consumers to absorb higher prices," Bienvenu said.

Meatpacker JBS SA this week agreed to pay $52.5 million to settle litigation accusing US beef processors of conspiring to limit supply to inflate prices and boost profits. The settlement renewed calls among US senators for legislation to improve transparency in the beef market.

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