Bunge's earnings rise, plans for drought impact

by Jeff Gelski
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Bunge Ltd. achieved higher income and sales in the third quarter due to the performance of its Agribusiness segment. When giving financial results, Bunge executives also gave an outlook on how industry may react to this summer’s U.S. drought.

For the quarter ended Sept. 30, Bunge had net income of net income of $297 million, equal to $1.92 per share on the common stock, which compared with $140 million, or 89c per share, in the previous year’s third quarter. Net sales of $17,293 million compared with $15,616 million.

“Bunge delivered significantly stronger third-quarter results than in the prior year,” said Alberto Weisser, chairman and chief executive officer of White Plains-based Bunge, when results were given Oct. 25. “Agribusiness operations posted solid results, and Food & Ingredients and Fertilizer showed improved performance from the challenging first half of the year. Results in Sugar & Bioenergy on a comparable basis were higher than last year, but below the potential of this business.”

Looking forward, the drought of 2012 will continue to have an effect.

“The current market environment, shaped most notably by the severe U.S. drought, has been and will continue to be volatile and complex for everyone who participates in our industry,” Mr. Weisser said. “Stocks of corn and soybeans are tight, and the world is adjusting typical trade flows. Bunge’s role is to help farmers and customers manage through this environment, by providing market access for crops and delivering the right products when and where they are needed. We are confident that the company’s core strengths — geographic balance, a diverse product portfolio, an experienced team and a strong balance sheet — enable us to fulfill this role effectively and profitably.

“The world needs record crops to rebuild stocks, and today’s high prices are sending a strong signal to farmers, especially in South America, to plant. Early indications are that soybean production will be at record levels. As new crops are harvested, we should see a more balanced supply-demand situation, which will be good for consumers and the market overall.”

In the third quarter, Bunge’s Agribusiness segment reported earnings before interest and tax (EBIT) of $406 million, up from $149 million in the previous year’s third quarter, and net sales of $11,993 million, up from $9,995 million. North America, Europe and Asia drove higher oilseed processing results. Bunge’s grain merchandising operations benefitted from a combination of export demand and large South American grain supplies.

The Edible Oil Products segment in the third quarter had EBIT of $29 million, up from $28 million, and net sales of $2,395 million, up from $2,337 million. Higher results in Bunge’s European and Brazilian businesses more than offset lower results in North American operations.

The Milling Products segment in the third quarter had EBIT of $30 million, up from $24 million, and net sales of $485 million, down from $525 million. Improved margins in wheat milling primarily drove higher earnings.

The Sugar & Bioenergy segment in the third quarter suffered a loss before interest and taxes of $47 million, which compared with a loss of $43 million in the previous year’s third quarter, and net sales of $1,522 million, down from $1,731 million. Higher sugar margins helped sugarcane milling performance improve from last year. Port congestion, however led to smaller sales volume, and the sugar content of harvested cane was lower. Third-quarter results included a $39 million impairment charge related to a North American corn ethanol joint venture.

“In Sugar & Bioenergy, we expect our milling business to continue to improve through the remainder of the year,” said Drew Burke, chief financial officer. “We remain on track to reach our planting target of approximately 70,000 hectares of sugarcane this year. This, combined with the steps we are taking to improve the efficiency of our operations, should enable us to operate our mills at full capacity in the 2013 crop year with lower unit production costs.”

The Fertilizer segment in the third quarter reported EBIT of $23 million, down from $33 million, and net sales of $898 million, down from $1,028 million. Fertilizer results in the third quarter improved compared to results in the first half of the year, but third-quarter results trailed those of last year because of lower margins in the company’s Brazilian business.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, Bunge companywide had net income of $663 million, or $4.29 per share, which compared with $688 million, or $4.42 per share, in the same time period of the previous year. Nine-month sales of $45,829 million compared with $42,298 million.

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