Fourth-quarter loss crimps Cargill fiscal-year earnings

by Jeff Gelski
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Going forward, Cargill plans to push sustainable products.

MINNEAPOLIS — Cargill earnings dropped 13% in the fiscal year ended May 31 as the company recorded a fourth-quarter loss and dealt with a sluggish environment in some emerging markets, the company said Aug. 6. David MacLennan, Cargill’s president and chief executive officer, also spoke about how the Minneapolis-based company will emphasize sustainability.

Fiscal-year earnings of $1.58 billion were down 13% from $1.82 million in the previous fiscal year. Fiscal-year revenues fell 11% to $120.4 billion. In the fourth quarter ended May 31, Cargill reported a net loss of $51 million, which compared with earnings of $376 million in the fourth quarter of the previous year, and revenues of $28.4 billion, which compared with $36.2 billion.

Mr. MacLennan said in the fourth quarter all four of the company’s business segments were profitable, but the loss resulted from charges taken at the corporate level, including an asset impairment charge related to the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and an additional charge related to Venezuela’s currency.

David MacLennan, Cargill’s president and c.e.o..

“While several Cargill businesses generated very strong earnings in fiscal 2015, we lagged results from the prior year and did not meet our own expectations,” Mr. MacLennan said. “The economic environment remains sluggish in many emerging markets where we have invested significantly over the past several years. Even so, we aim for growth and profitability through these cycles. We are moving forward with good progress on changes begun last year to optimize the business portfolio, reduce costs and increase operational effectiveness.”

Mr. MacLennan also spoke on Cargill’s history and future.

“Over the 150 years that Cargill has been in business, we’ve seen big changes in the marketplace, including today’s profound rise in the importance of sustainability,” he said. “Given Cargill's broad presence in food and agriculture, we’re in a good position to drive positive change. We want to be the most trusted source of sustainable products and services in our industry.”

In Cargill’s Food Ingredients and Applications business, earnings were lower in both the fiscal year and the fourth quarter when compared with the previous year. Ardent Mills, a flour milling joint venture formed by Cargill, ConAgra Foods, Inc. and CHS in fiscal year 2014, had a successful first year of operation in fiscal year 2015. Cargill’s salt operations performed strongly. In emerging markets the economic slowdown and excess industry capacity decreased results. Evolving consumer preferences in developed economies also affected results negatively.

In the Origination and Processing business, full-year earnings were up while fourth-quarter results were down. A record U.S. soybean crop, limited supplies from South America and a strong export pull for most of the year boosted soybean crush volumes in North America. Farmers held their crops in Argentina, and slower farmer selling also was noted in Brazil. Cargill’s evacuation and the subsequent armed occupation of the company’s sunflower seed processing plant in Donetsk, Ukraine, in July 2014 decreased earnings in the region in the following 11 months.

In the Animal Nutrition and Protein business, strong performances in global animal nutrition, Central American poultry, and U.S. pork, turkey and egg further processing helped lead to increased profits for the fiscal year. Softer results in some animal protein businesses kept fourth-quarter earnings below the earnings in the previous year’s fourth quarter. In the North American market, high cattle costs decreased beef’s competitiveness relative to other meats.

The Industrial and Financial Services business reported an upturn in the fourth quarter but not in the fiscal year. The energy business, especially petroleum, performed better than a year ago, both in the fiscal year and the fourth quarter.

Cargill noted the May 31, 2014, consolidated financial statements were revised to reflect the correction of an immaterial error in charges related to a Venezuelan currency devaluation that occurred in Cargill's fiscal 2014 fourth quarter.
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