Astral Falls Most Since 2009 on Profit Crash: Johannesburg Mover

Astral Foods Ltd., a South African poultry producer, fell the most in almost four years after it reported the worst quarterly performance in its history as a listed company and said it may not pay a half-year dividend.

The shares slid as much as 8 percent, the most on an intraday basis since March 2009, and traded 6.1 percent lower at 95 rand by 4:24 p.m. in Johannesburg. About 594,000 shares changed hands, or almost ten times the daily average over the last three months.

“This is a reaction to an incredibly disappointing trading update,” Ryan Wibberley, a trader at Investec Asset Management, said by phone from Cape Town. “There’s a cloud of uncertainty over the payment of an interim dividend.”

Operating profit for the three months through December was down 60 percent, Astral said in a statement. It faced higher costs due to a rise in maize and soya prices, a depressed consumer environment, and record cheap poultry imports from Brazil and Europe.

The company was also hit by a wave of violent labor strikes between November and January that cost more than 35 million rand ($3.9 million) in damage and caused the death of about 65,000 chickens, it said.

Earnings per share for the six months through March is estimated to be 45 percent to 65 percent lower compared with a year earlier. The drop in estimated earnings makes the payment of an interim dividend “uncertain”, the company said. Astral has paid a twice-yearly dividend since 2003, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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