Tyson falls amid SEC scrutiny over chicken-pricing suits

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Chicken-gate?

Shares in Tyson Foods are in retreat on Monday after the US’s largest meat processor said it received an inquiry last month from US securities regulators, which it said is likely connected to a civil litigation accusing it and other companies of conspiring to fix broiler chicken prices.

The Arkansas-company, the biggest player in the US for so-called broiler chicken – or birds raised specifically for meat production – said in a regulatory filing that it had been served a subpoena on January 20 from the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with an investigation related to the company. It said the allegations were likely similar to those in recent civil litigation that accused it of working with other meat processors to coordinate output, limit production and share sensitive information in order to boost chicken prices, claims that defendants have denied.

“We are cooperating with the investigation, which is at an early stage,” the company said in the filing.

Shares in the company fell 2 per cent to $64.10 in early trading in New York.

Tyson and other poultry producers have faced a number of civil lawsuits over the past few months from distributors and other direct chicken purchasers, as well as related litigation from shareholders.

Some of the allegations centre around producers’ use of the Georgia Dock, a widely used price index for wholesale chickens, which some people bringing the lawsuits claim was manipulated and artificially inflated by producers, a claim the companies have also denied. The Georgia Department of Agriculture, which oversees the benchmark index, said in December that it was suspending the weekly benchmark while it formulates a new price index.

The legal scrutiny has cast a cloud over what was an otherwise upbeat set of quarterly earnings from Tyson earlier on Monday, which showed a 38 per cent year-on-year increase in earnings per share, to $1.59, while sales remained relatively flat at $9.18bn, compared to $9.15bn from the same quarter a year earlier. It also raised guidance for the upcoming year, predicting a 12 per cent increase in adjusted earnings per share from 2016, to come in at $4.90-$5.05, up from its previous forecast of $4.70-$4.85.

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