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Kraft 4Q Net Rose 54% On Higher Prices; Costs Hurt Margins

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Kraft Foods Inc.'s (KFT) fourth-quarter earnings rose 54% as higher prices continued to boost the packaged-food giant's revenue, though increased costs hurt margins. The maker of Kraft cheese, Oscar Mayer lunch meats and Planters nuts has been able to pass along price increases relatively well as its profits have grown in recent quarters, despite rising commodity costs. The company said last month it will cut about 1,600 positions in North America throughout 2012 as it prepares to split itself into two companies: a global snack company and a North American grocery business. Kraft reported a profit of $830 million, or 47 cents a share, up from $540 million, or 31 cents, a year earlier. Excluding acquisition, integration, divestitures and other items, earnings were 57 cents in the most-recent quarter. Revenue jumped 6.6% to $14.69 billion and organic revenue grew 6.1%. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had most recently forecast earnings of 57 cents on revenue of $14.79 billion. Gross margin fell to 33.3% from 34.8% as input costs jumped 9.1%. Operating profit at Kraft's North American business was up 8.9% as organic revenue rose 7%. European operating profit increased 7.5%, while organic revenue grew 3.1%. Kraft also forecast 2012 organic revenue growth of about 5%, including a negative impact of up to one percentage point from product pruning in North America. Shares closed Friday at $38.01 and were inactive premarket. The stock has risen 1.7% so far this year. -By Melodie Warner, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2283; melodie.warner@dowjones.com

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