(Adds record high in stock price, comments from executives, details on corn prices)
By Tom Polansek
Aug 5 (Reuters) - Tyson Foods Inc reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings on Monday and reaffirmed expectations it will profit from the spread of a fatal hog disease in China, sending shares to a record high.
Tyson has not yet reaped major financial gains from the deaths of millions of pigs in China's outbreak of African swine fever, Chief Executive Noel White said. China is still working its way through frozen meat supplies, but could begin to increase imports of U.S. pork to fill a shortfall as soon as October, he said.
Shares hit a record high of $87.27.
African swine fever is fatal to pigs but harmless to humans and has not been found in the United States.
China could also ramp up total imports of beef and poultry meat as Chinese consumers look for other sources of protein. That could help Tyson, which produces beef and chicken as well as pork.
"I think that all of the proteins will benefit," White told analysts on a conference call.
Tyson has already held discussions with meat buyers in China, the world's largest hog producer and pork consumer, White said.
But China's purchases so far have fallen short of industry expectations so far after Beijing last year imposed retaliatory duties on imports of American farm products including pork as part of the escalating U.S.-China trade war.
"As China depletes its frozen inventory and starts tapping into the global pork supply in a more meaningful way, we expect Tyson to start realizing meaningful upside, likely in early FY20," Bernstein analyst Alexia Howard said.
Higher corn prices could limit profits for Tyson, which buys the grain to feed chickens. The size of the American crop is uncertain after farmers suffered unprecedented plantings delays this spring due to widespread flooding.
Tyson expects a year-over-year increase of $150 million to $200 million in the cost of grain, Chief Financial Officer Stewart Glendinning said.
The company recorded a $40 million gain in its chicken unit in the third quarter ended June 29 as corn futures rose, benefiting the company's position in the grain market. However, much of that profit is likely to be reversed in the fourth quarter as corn prices have pulled back, Glendinning said.
Net income attributable to Tyson rose to $676 million, or $1.84 per share, in the quarter, from $541 million, or $1.47 per share, a year earlier.
Excluding items, the company earned $1.47 per share, beating analysts' average estimate of $1.42.
Total sales rose 8.3% to $10.89 billion. Analysts on average had expected revenue of $11.05 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
The Justice Department said in June it launched a criminal probe related to price-fixing allegations against Tyson and other poultry processors, which the companies have denied.
Tyson subsequently received a grand jury subpoena from the Justice Department "seeking additional documents and information related to the chicken industry," the company said in a regulatory filing on Monday. Tyson said it is cooperating with the probe. (bit.ly/2yB9YzI)
Puerto Rico, on behalf of its citizens, has also launched a civil lawsuit against Tyson and other poultry processing companies that alleges antitrust violations, according to the filing.
Reporting by Tom Polansek in Chicago and Soundarya J in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila, Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown