WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Bunge Ltd. kicked off its fiscal 2015 year on a positive note, as strength in agribusiness and food and ingredients benefitted the company’s bottom line. Net income in the first quarter ended March 31 was $249 million, equal to $1.58 per share on the common stock, which compared with a loss of $27 million in the same period a year ago. Earnings before interest and taxes also improved, increasing to $373 million from $75 million.
Net sales fell 20% to $10,806 million from $13,461 million.
“Bunge is off to a good start in 2015,” Soren Schroder, chief executive officer, said during an April 30 conference call with analysts. “In Q1 soy crush margins and results were strong. Risk management performance was significantly improved over the prior year. We made meaningful progress in our operational improvement programs, and we added important new operations to our business. The trading full-quarter return on invested capital and our core agribusiness and food segments is now 10.7%, well above our cost of capital. Despite some headwinds in the market, the outlook for the remainder of 2015 is optimistic. We expect the full-year results to put us on a comfortable path towards our 2017 e.p.s. target of $8.50 per share.”
Driving much of the growth at Bunge during the quarter was the company’s Agribusiness unit, where EBIT increased to $330 million from $79 million. Sales fell 22% to $7,911 million from $10,093 million.
In order to provide more transparency, Bunge for the first time broke out its Agribusiness results into two segments: oilseeds and grains.
Oilseeds, which consists of Bunge’s oilseed processing activity, oilseeds trading and distribution business, and biodiesel joint ventures, posted EBIT of $242 million in the first quarter, up from $79 million in the same period a year ago, led by strong performances in U.S. soy processing and global oilseed trading and distribution operations.
“U.S. processing benefited from strong crushing margins, good domestic and export meal demand and the recognition of mark-to-market gains as the losses recorded in the fourth quarter reversed,” said Drew Burke, chief financial officer. “Brazil performed well, and South America results are in line with prior year. European soft seed results were lower due to wheat farmers selling. Asian results showed improvement.”
Grains, which consists of Bunge’s grain and origination business (primarily corn, wheat, barley, soybeans and soft seeds), global trading and distribution operations, ports, logistics and financial activities, had EBIT of $88 million, which compared with breakeven in the prior year.
“Our grains trading and distribution business performed significantly better as risks management strategies worked well in the quarter and ocean freight costs were lower,” Mr. Burke said. “Ocean freight results also benefited from gains from the reversal of the majority of the mark-to-market losses incurred in the fourth quarter. Brazilian grain origination results were good, but below prior year as farmer selling was low in the early part of the quarter.”
EBIT in the company’s Edible Oil Products unit totaled $36 million in the first quarter, up from $22 million a year ago. Net sales eased to $1,648 million from $1,928 million.
Milling Products, meanwhile, also posted EBIT of $36 million in the quarter, up from $32 million in the same period a year ago. Net sales fell 17% to $446 million from $535 million.
“Milling results were slightly above prior year, despite the impact of weakening currencies,” Mr. Burke said. “Our wheat milling performance was above prior year, as both Mexico and Brazil have improved performance. The integration of our Mexico milling acquisitions continues to proceed smoothly. Corn milling was weaker than prior year, as lower market demand from the brewer and cereal industries caused the decline of volumes.”Bunge narrowed its loss in the Sugar and Bioenergy division, as the company’s loss before interest and taxes moved to $23 million from a loss of $64 million a year ago. Mr. Burke said the segment was affected last year by a $31 million loss from temporary mark-to-market losses related to the hedges of forward sugar sales.