(Adds details on outlook, analyst comment; updates shares)
Feb 1 (Reuters) - Hershey Co's quarterly profit and sales missed analysts' expectations, hurt in part by the timing of shipments in North America and weak demand in global markets, sending its shares down 5 percent before the bell on Thursday.
Sales dipped 1.5 percent to $1.94 billion, missing analysts' estimate of $1.95 billion, due to the late shipments last quarter and the launch of the Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch bar in the prior year that spiked sales in the 2016 quarter.
Adjusted margins were down 1.8 percent compared with the previous year as the Hershey's Kisses maker struggled with higher freight, distribution costs and supply chain expenses.
However, the drop in cocoa prices and cost-cutting measures have enabled the candy maker to improve profits. Cost of sales fell about 10 percent to $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter.
Net income rose to $181.1 million, or 85 cents per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, from $116.9 million, 55 cents per share, a year earlier.
"While we continue to expect falling cocoa prices to benefit gross margin, the positive margin impact may not materialize until the second-half of 2018 given the near-term headwinds," Stifel analyst Alexia Howard wrote in a pre-earnings note.
Adjusted net income was $1.03 per share, missing analysts' estimate of $1.07, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
North America sales, which account for most of Hershey's revenue, fell nearly 1 percent to $1.7 billion in the quarter. International sales declined 5.4 percent to $265 million.
Hershey said the recent changes in U.S. tax laws would favorably impact net income, earnings per share-diluted and cash flow in 2018, adding that it is currently evaluating the cash benefits of the tax rate changes.
For 2018, the company expects sales to rise 5-7 percent and margins to remain flat.
Organic net sales for 2018 are expected to increase up to around 2 percent, lower than its previous target.
Due to lower tax rate and reinvestment, Hershey said it expects 2018 adjusted earnings per share of $5.33-$5.43, or an increase of 12-14 percent. (Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Martina D'Couto)