Monsanto reports smaller loss, forecasts profit below estimates

Reuters — Monsanto, the world’s largest seed company, reported a narrower fourth-quarter loss on Wednesday and said it sees continued growth in the new fiscal year on sales of corn and soybean seeds.

Monsanto, known for its genetically engineered corn, soybeans and other crops as well as the popular Roundup herbicide, forecast earnings in a range of $5.75 to $6 per share for the 2015 year (all figures US$). Analysts were expecting $6.03.

Monsanto’s stock was up 0.3 per cent in volatile trade near midday as company executives laid out plans for growth and investments in new business units for the 2015 fiscal year despite a “more challenging” environment for global commodities.

“We’re able to commit to strong growth today and at the same time step up significant, incremental investments to unlock future growth,” Monsanto CEO Hugh Grant said on a conference call with analysts.

Monsanto said profits will be affected by increasing investments in new technology platforms in 2015. The will pour $350 million into a new farm data business unit, Climate Corp, and other emerging business units. In 2014, those investments totaled $150 million.

Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold said that even with grain prices depressed, Monsanto’s premium seed products should continue to be popular with farmers, he said.

“We think that fiscal ’15 can play out reasonably well, even in a pretty challenging agricultural environment,” Arnold said.

Monsanto sees flat to lower key U.S. and Latin America corn seed plantings for 2015, while drought in Australia will hurt cotton sales. But those elements should be offset by upgrades and expansion of soybean products, officials said.

Narrower loss

Quarterly revenue totaled $2.6 billion, up from $2.2 billion a year ago. Its fourth quarter loss narrowed to $156 million, or 31 cents a share, from $249 million, or 47 cents a share, a year earlier. The most recent quarter included a charge of four cents per share related to an environmental settlement.

The loss on an ongoing basis was 27 cents a share, slightly worse than the 24 cent loss that analysts expected, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Sales of corn seeds and genetic traits remained a key driver, totaling $630 million for the quarter, up from $618 million a year ago.

Soybean seed and trait sales came to $199 million for the quarter, up from $87 million a year earlier.

The agricultural productivity business unit, which includes Roundup herbicide, reported net sales of $1.25 billion, up from $1 billion a year earlier. The Roundup business is expected to soften in 2015, Monsanto officials said.

Net sales for the full year totaled $15.9 billion, up seven per cent from 2013, helped in part by record soybean sales of $2.1 billion for the year.

Monsanto reported 2014 ongoing earnings of $5.23 a share. In June, it forecast $5.10 to $5.20 a share.

The stock was up 0.3 per cent to $108.09. Shares fell as low as $105.76, and as high as $110 during the session.

— Carey Gillam is a Reuters correspondent covering agribusiness from Kansas City.

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