Viterra posts record 2011 but Q4 profit skids

Viterra posts record 2011 but Q4 profit skids

Recent years’ acquisitions by Canada’s biggest grain handler are turning up well on the company’s bottom line, Viterra reported Wednesday.

The Calgary-based grain and agrifood firm booked net earnings of $265.41 million on $11.79 billion in revenues for the 12 months ending Oct. 31, up from $145.27 million on $8.26 billion in the previous fiscal year.

Revenues for the company’s fourth quarter (Q4) were also up substantially at $3.06 billion, compared to $1.95 billion in the year-earlier period — but net Q4 earnings dropped to $9.46 million from $52.67 million in the previous Q4.

“While the current economic environment is challenging, Viterra has an enviable position in this global market, a vertically integrated business model, excellent assets in key growing regions, and an efficient global marketing network all supported by a strong liquidity position,” CEO Mayo Schmidt said in a release.

“We are focused on improving our return on assets to drive earnings per share performance and our results demonstrate this. Given the confidence in our business model and strategy to generate future earnings, we have increased our dividend by 50 per cent.”

The company’s board said Wednesday it has approved the increase in its dividend rate to 15 cents per share.

All three of Viterra’s business segments boosted their 12-month sales revenue and contributions to gross profit, relative to fiscal 2010, the company said.

In the agri-products segment, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) was up 59 per cent, based on strong fertilizer volumes and higher fertilizer margins.

In the grain handling and marketing segment, Viterra reported EBITDA up 28 per cent on “record grain receipts and shipments in Australia and strong results from North American grain.”

In its processing segment, Viterra said, year-end EBITDA was up 19 per cent on income from the pasta and oat businesses it bought in fiscal 2010, and on a combined food processing margin of $116.94 per tonne, up from $101.85 the previous year.

“Short-term challenges”

In its Q4 alone, however, the company noted “lower EBITDA, non-recurring impairment and asset disposal losses and higher income taxes,” all of which ate into net earnings.

Among those were a “goodwill impairment” of $8 million for the company’s western Canadian feed operations, which Viterra said reflect the “continued intense competition and overcapacity in the feed market.”

The Q4 results, lower than what market analysts had expected, led to a seven per cent drop in Viterra’s TSX share values on Thursday morning, the Reuters news service reported.

Looking further into 2012, Viterra on Wednesday said strong fundamentals are expected to hold for global grain commodity markets, with stocks-to-use ratios for wheat and coarse grains expected to remain tight compared to historical averages.

“Historically high” grain pricing should continue to drive solid returns for producers and demand for crop inputs, the company said,

The company’s agrifood processing operations, meanwhile, are expected to provide “solid contributions” in fiscal 2012, based on “procurement advantages from the company’s global commodities pipeline” and other factors helping to ease the “short-term challenges presented by macro-conditions in some of this segment’s operating environments.”

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