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Beware food companies relying on their bookkeeping rather than their cooking to keep investors satisfied.

A number of food companies have recently been selling their IOUs to deal with the fact that their customers, namely giant retailers like Walmart Inc., are taking longer to pay. The sales bolster cash flows, but critics contend they can make the giant food companies’ finances look better than they truly are as they face increased business pressures. The financing charges can also make those sales less profitable.

Treehouse Foods Inc., which two years ago bought the private-label business of ConAgra Brands Inc., in December became the latest food company to turn to its unpaid billings as a source of immediate cash. Treehouse sold $183 million of its accounts receivables to an unidentified financial institution in the first three months of the year, according to its first-quarter financial filing. Cereal maker Kellogg Co., which began selling its receivables two years ago, recently expanded its IOU financing arrangements. The company says it may borrow as much as $1 billion against its receivables, up from $350 million two years ago. Mondelez International and Kraft Heinz Co., which have both used similar financing arrangements for years, have also recently increased their sales of IOUs. Mondelez had borrowed $804 million against its unpaid receivables at the end of last year, up from $211 million at the end of 2014.

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