Hormel Foods Corp. reported a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit and said it expects already-rising hog prices to continue climbing through the year.

Net income for the quarter ended Jan. 24 was $111.2 million, or 82 cents a share, up 37 percent from $81.4 million, or 60 cents, in the same period a year earlier, Hormel said in a statement today. Revenue rose 2.3 percent to $1.73 billion.

The per-share profit topped analysts’ estimates by about 14 cents, and Hormel shares rallied almost 5 percent.

Hormel boosted profit even though it’s been paying more for hogs. That’s partly because of favorable spreads between prices for slaughter-ready animals and pork cutout values. The Austin, Minn.-based company, the fifth-largest U.S. pork processor, sees hog prices rising further.

“We anticipate higher hog costs as we progress through the year,” Hormel Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Ettinger said in today’s statement.

Hog prices are rising, rallying more than 50 percent over the past six months in futures trading, because producers are cutting herds amid ballooning losses. The total U.S. hog inventory as of Dec. 1 was 65.8 million head, down 2 percent from a year earlier, according to government data.

Some analysts have grown skeptical over Hormel’s profit outlook. Janney Capital Markets analyst Jonathan Feeney earlier this month cut his 2010 earnings forecast for Hormel, citing “the still-robust outlook for hog inflation.”

In futures trading today, CME Group lean hogs for April delivery rose 0.5 cent to 69.7 cents a pound near midday, while June futures fell 0.05 cent to 78.85 cents. CME futures reflect carcass prices.

Despite the higher-cost outlook, Hormel today raised its full-year profit forecast to $2.68 to $2.78 a share from a previous range of $2.63 to $2.73. The company earned $2.53 in 2009.

Near midday, Hormel shares rose $1.94, or 4.8 percent, to $42.53, up almost 40 percent over the past 12 months.