ST. LOUIS — After a year of stellar financial results, Bunge Ltd. has issued a guarded but hopeful outlook for 2021, citing uncertainty in the second half of the year. The guidance was included in full-year financial results for 2020, released by the company Feb. 10.
Bunge net income in the year ended Dec. 31 was $1.16 billion, equal to $7.71 per share on the common stock, a dramatic recovery from 2019 when the company sustained a loss of $1.32 billion. Sales in 2020 were $41.4 billion, up 0.6% from 2019.
Results affecting comparability between the two years include $108 million in goodwill impairment recorded in the fourth quarter of 2019. On an adjusted basis, earnings per share were $8.30 in 2020, up 74% from $4.76 in 2019. The adjusted results were dramatically better than Bunge’s initial guidance for 2020 issued a year ago, when the company said earnings last year essentially would be flat from the year before.
“Our performance in 2020 was exceptional reflecting the earnings strength of our platform,” said Gregory A. Heckman, chief executive officer. “Our talented team and new operating model allowed us to capture the upside from market opportunities and deepen customer partnerships. We delivered these strong results while completing the portfolio actions we originally identified, sharpening our financial discipline, and, importantly, keeping the focus on protecting the safety of our team during these unprecedented times.
“Looking ahead, we expect the favorable market environment to continue into 2021, reflecting strong and growing demand, as well as tight supplies. We are excited about our momentum and the opportunities ahead of us.”
For 2021, Bunge has said it will earn at least $6 per share, on an adjusted basis. While down considerably from 2020 earnings, the company said the target represents a meaningful step up from its “previously stated EPS baseline.”
Explaining its expectation for lower earnings in the new year, Bunge said its Agribusiness results are likely to be down from 2020, principally because of lower contributions from its oilseed processing and origination businesses, especially in Brazil.
In a Feb. 11 conference call with investment analysts Mr. Heckman struck a hopeful tone discussing the new year.
“We’re optimistic,” he said. “I feel way better about making the call at least $6 at this time this year than the call we were making, which was lower for 2020 at the same time last year. So look, we’re optimistic. We feel good, but we’re also measured, and there’s a lot of moving pieces.”
He added that even though many of the forces driving improved results last year remain in place, “We don’t have clear visibility into the second half of the year.” Key factors the company will track closely include changes in demand, crop prospects and the post-COVID recovery.
In 2020, it was the Agribusiness division that paced Bunge’s outperformance for the year. Segment EBIT last year was $1.66 billion, up 96% from $847 million the year before. Volume, at 143 million tonnes, was up 2.1%. Within Agribusiness, both grains and oilseeds businesses accounted for the strong results.
“In oilseeds, higher results were primarily driven by soft seed processing where earnings were higher in all regions supported by strong vegetable oil demand,” Bunge said. “Soy processing results were in line with the prior year as improvements in North America and Asia were offset by South America and Europe.”
EBIT more than doubled both for oilseeds and grains in 2020.
“In grains, higher results were primarily driven by our North American operations, which benefited from strong export demand and execution,” Bunge said. “Results also benefited from favorable risk management and optimization in our global trading and distribution business.”
In the Edible Oils segment, adjusted EBIT was $294 million in 2020, up 18% from $250 million in 2019. Volumes were down slightly at 9.52 million tonnes, versus 9.61 million.
“Higher results in North America were largely due to increased demand from the renewable diesel sector,” the company said.
Losing ground in 2020 were results in the Milling Products segment. At $85 million, adjusted EBIT was down 9% from $93 million in 2019. Volume was 4.66 million tonnes in 2020, up 2.9% from 4.53 million tonnes.
“Lower results in the quarter were driven by North America, which was impacted by lower volumes and margins, as well as a loss of earnings from our rice milling operation that was sold during the quarter,” Bunge said.
Discussing the COVID-19 pandemic, Bunge said many countries globally continue to impose quarantines and significant restrictions. Additional restrictions are possible in the months ahead, though the company said it has managed through the pandemic successfully so far.
“To date, the company has not seen a significant disruption in its supply chain, has been able to mitigate logistics and distribution issues that have arisen, and substantially all of its facilities around the world have continued to operate at or near normal levels,” Bunge said.
Offering examples of changes at the company that will help sustain success in 2021, Mr. Heckman during the conference call said Bunge had reduced unplanned downtime more than 30% year-over-year at its soybean plants and 20% in soft seeds.
“This improved capacity utilization brought immediate financial benefits without a significant additional use of capital,” he said. “This is just one example of how this more global approach has improved our network efficiency.”
He also cited the strength of the company’s risk management program.
“Our approach to risk management allows us to capture the upside of that volatility and protect against most of the downside,” he said. “While we won’t always manage it perfectly, this approach is what makes our model unique and powerful.”
A different approach to capital spending also should benefit Bunge longer term, Mr. Heckman said.
“As we make those capital decisions, the one big thing that’s changed really is around disciplined process and looking at the alternatives that we have,” he said. “And so remember, we’re adding up and looking at all of the opportunities at the global level. There’s no allocation regionally or by business. So every business is competing for that capital. We’ve added discipline around looking at the scenario analysis and the stress testing and stressing all the assumptions in a project so that we’re really comfortable when we put long-lived capital to work.”
During the early phases of COVID, he said the company benefited by responding to changing customer needs.
“We quickly adjusted our production to help some of the world’s leading brands continue to keep their products on the store shelves,” he said. “We also worked closely with our foodservice customers as they continued to adapt to the changing demand patterns.”
In the fourth quarter of 2020, Bunge net income was $559 million, equal to $3.74 per share, versus a $68 million loss the year before. Sales were $12.61 billion, up 17% from $1.9 billion in the final quarter of 2019. Adjusted earnings per share were $3.05, up from $1.69.