Stock in Pilgrim’s Pride, the second largest poultry producer in the US and Mexico, plunged to a 52-week low after the company announced its first quarter earnings will be more than 50% below previous predictions. 

Shares fell by US$6.01 (18%) to $27.15 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The company is withdrawing its earnings outlook for the 2006 fiscal year and intends to cut 300 jobs at its plant in Franconia.

Pilgrim’s Pride has blamed declining profits on a poor performance from its Mexico operations, lower US prices for chicken quarters and public fears surrounding bird flu.

Reports have suggested that the company will slash its first-quarter earnings estimate to a range of 36 cents to 41 cents per share, excluding one-time charges and tax benefits. Originally, Pilgrim’s Pride had projected first-quarter earnings ranging from 75 cents to 85 cents per share. Pilgrim’s Pride has not yet revised its full-year earnings guidance, but it planned to do so when it releases its first-quarter 2006 financial statement, according to a statement by the company released yesterday (3 January).