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Maple Leaf Foods returns to Q3 profit

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (MFI-T) said Thursday it returned to profit in the third quarter on strong results from its protein group and the food processor slightly topped expectations.

The meat packer and baker, which is closing older meat plants while modernizing others as part of a multi-year plan to boost earnings, is up against rising raw meat costs and a strong Canadian dollar.

Maple Leaf is managing those pressures in part by raising product prices and cutting costs, said President and CEO Michael McCain.

The country's leading food processor said net earnings were $43 million, versus a loss of $19.9 million in the third quarter of 2010. Basic earnings per share were 29 cents, compared with a loss of 16 cents a year before.

The average analyst estimate was 27 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Adjusted for the impact of restructuring and other factors, earnings per share were 34 cents, up from 22 cents.

The strong Canadian dollar has made it harder for Maple Leaf to compete against U.S. rivals including Tyson Foods, Smithfield Foods and Hormel, leading the company to cut costs and modernize meatpacking operations.

Sales slipped 2 percent to $1.26 billion for the quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with expectations for $1.25 billion.

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