Bunge’s Weisser: Agribusiness success no fluke

by Josh Sosland
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NEW YORK — A more than doubling of the Agribusiness Division quarterly earnings of Bunge Ltd. reflected a methodical and focused approach to growth over many years, said Alberto Weisser, Bunge’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Earnings before interest and taxes for the Agribusiness division totaled $406 million in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, up 172% from $149 million during the third quarter of 2011. The jump in Agribusiness results drove an overall 112% surge in Bunge net income in the quarter (see related story). The $406 million in EBIT for Agribusiness accounted for 92% of total Bunge EBIT.

Bunge shares climbed to a new 52-week high in New York Stock Exchange trading Oct. 25 after the earnings release. The closing price of $70.18 was up 2.8% for the day and up 23% year to date.
In an Oct. Oct. 25 conference call with investment analysts following the release of the financial results, Mr. Weisser suggested the Agribusiness surge should not be viewed as an aberration.

“We now have six years of strong, growing, consistent performance in Agribusiness as a consequence of our approach to growth, which has focused on expanding in three areas — geographies, portfolios, and value chains,” Mr. Weisser said. “This approach is what has made the business balanced and resilient through changing conditions and difficult market environments.”

Indeed a review of the last several years suggests that the third quarter of 2011 rather than 2012 was the outlier. The $149 million in EBIT in the 2011 period compared with $313 million in 2010 and $284 in 2009.

The company attributed the down year in 2011 to lower margins in grain merchandising and “risk management that did not perform as well (as a year earlier).”

In the Oct. 25 conference call, Drew Burke, chief financial officer, indicated the company in the latest quarter took advantage of an expanded asset base in North America.

“Our Agribusiness volumes continue to show growth, with a 15% increase over the prior-year quarter to 35.8 million tons,” Mr. Burke said. “On a year-to-date basis, volumes have grown 19% to 101 million tons. This growth has been primarily driven by our investments in North American grain handling and port assets, and our European origination and distribution businesses.”

Earlier this year, EGT L.L.C., a major new export grain terminal, began operations in Longview, Wash. Bunge is a partner in EGT.

Asked by an analyst to further detail the improvement in Agribusiness results, Mr. Weisser declined to offer greater specifics.

“It really was an excellent quarter in the sense that every region and every product line performed well,” he said. ‘So we had good performance in South America with processing and origination. We had good improvement in margins in the Northern Hemisphere, so North America. Europe performed well. So it was everywhere. It is not one silver bullet, it was everything was doing — was performing well — the merchandising business, distribution, origination. So I’m sorry to tell you there is not one answer. There is many. So I think that’s also the power of what we have built over the last many years that it is very well-balanced.”

Bunge’s overview of its Agribusiness Segment activities follows:

• purchase grains and oilseeds from farmers;
• store, transport and sell raw commodities to end customers in domestic and export markets;
• process oilseeds into protein meals and crude vegetable oil for sale to livestock producers, feed millers, food processors, the biofuels industry and other customers;
• provide financial services, risk management and logistics services to end customers;
• execute risk management strategies for Bunge.

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