WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Soft demand in global agribusiness and food markets led to a second straight quarter of losses at Bunge Ltd. The company, which suffered a $210 million loss in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008, sustained a loss of $195 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2009 ended March 31. The loss compared with net income of $289 million, equal to $2.10 per share on the common stock, in the same period a year ago.
Net sales also fell, easing 26% to $9,198 million from $12,469 million.
"The start to 2009 was more challenging than expected," said Alberto Weisser, chairman and chief executive officer. "Bunge’s first-quarter results reflect this. Retail fertilizer margins in Brazil suffered from aggressive price reductions by competitors, which drove sales prices below international levels. Additionally, global demand for soybean meal was soft. Despite this difficult start, our confidence in a recovery in our markets and a solid performance in the second half of the year remains strong."
Mr. Weisser said global soybean meal consumption in the first quarter fell by approximately 6% compared with the same period a year ago.
Agribusiness earnings before interest and tax was $18 million in the first quarter, down 93% from the same period a year ago when the company posted earnings of $251 million. Net sales in Agribusiness were $6,633 million, down 25%.
Bunge said higher results in grain origination primarily due to strong soybean demand from China were more than offset by lower results in oilseed processing and distribution. In addition, weaker global demand for soybean-based products due to poor economic conditions in end markets and substitution by other agricultural commodity products pressured volumes and margins in the quarter.
Bunge said its Fertilizer division sustained a loss of $262 million in the quarter, which compared with earnings of $133 million in the same period last year. Net sales were $2,061 million, down 23%.
Bunge said the operating loss reflected lower selling prices, higher raw material and finished product inventory costs due to the purchases made last year prior to the drop in international prices. .
Milling products earnings was $19 million on sales of $376 million in the first quarter, versus $7 million and $486 million, respectively, the year before.
Bunge said it experienced higher volumes in both wheat and corn milling.
Earnings for Edible oil products fell 57% to $22 million. Sales in the unit were virtually unchanged, at $1,394 million compared with $1,391 million a year ago.
Looking ahead, Bunge lowered its full-year net income guidance for 2009 to $4.90 to $5.40 per share from $6.90 to $7.60 per share.
The company’s stock fell nearly 15% in early trading on the New York Stock Exchange.