Bunge net profit falls 60% in Q2

by FoodBusinessNews.net Staff
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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — Net income of Bunge Ltd. was $293 million, equal to $2.28 per share on the common stock, in the second quarter ended June 30, down 60% from $731 million, or $5.45 per share, in the second quarter last year.

Net sales in the second quarter were $10,994 million, down 23% from the second quarter last year.

While second-quarter operating income was down from the second quarter last year in each of Bunge’s principal operating units, the company’s top executive said the decline would have been steeper but for the results of the anchor Agribusiness division, which exceeded expectations.

"Bunge’s skilled team leveraged our integrated global asset network to generate better-than-expected agribusiness returns," said Alberto Weisser, chairman and chief executive officer. "We served our customers well and managed risks effectively in a volatile environment. This strong performance offset weak fertilizer results."

Consistent with this interpretation of the company’s results, Bunge’s shares in early New York Stock Exchange trading July 23 were up $2.65, or 4%.

Agribusiness earnings before interest and taxes in the second quarter were $448 million, equating to 107% of Bunge’s total EBIT (the 100%-plus figure reflected a loss in the Fertilizer division). The segment’s EBIT was down 27% from the second quarter last year, though the decline was only 10% when a $117 million one-time credit in last year’s results are excluded.

"Second-quarter results in grain origination, oilseed processing and distribution were significantly improved from levels seen in the previous three quarters, although lower than an exceptionally strong period last year," Bunge said.

Strong soybean demand from China boosted results, and oilseed processing profits were boosted by good margins and improved meal demand from customers rebuilding depleted inventory pipelines.

Agribusiness volumes were 33,597 million tonnes, up 9% from 30,906 million last year.

Edible Oil Products EBIT in the second quarter was $10 million, down 33% from $15 million in the second quarter last year. Again, though, the year-ago results included a one-time gain emanating from a $14 million land sale.

"Improved results in Europe and North America were more than offset by lower volume and margins in Brazil, which suffered from aggressive competition," Bunge said.

Edible Oil Products volume was 1,382 million tonnes, down 4% from 1,438 million tonnes last year.

Milling Products EBIT in the second quarter tumbled to $14 million, down 75% from $56 million in the second quarter last year.

Milling Products volume was 1,100 million tonnes, up 13% from 974 million in the second quarter of 2008.

"Higher volume was more than offset by lower margins," Bunge said. "Wheat milling margins in the same period last year benefited from lower priced raw materials purchased earlier in a period of rising prices. The second quarter last year included an $11 million credit resulting from a favorable ruling related to certain transactional taxes in Brazil."

The weakest link in the Bunge second quarter was the Fertilizer segment, with a loss of $53 million, versus a $393 million profit in the second quarter last year. Volume was 2,426 million, down 19%.

Bunge attributed the loss to a combination of high cost inventory and increasing international fertilizer prices. The reported results understate the actual weakness of the unit in the quarter since the company had $183 million in net foreign exchange gains because of appreciation of the Brazilian real on U.S. dollar-denominated financing of working capital. Bunge took an inventory valuation write-down of about $121 million because of further declines in fertilizer prices.

Apart from the swings in the company’s quarterly operating results, Mr. Weisser recounted a number of strategic steps the company took during the second quarter to build its business going forward.

"We continued to follow our strategy of investing in our core businesses," he said. "We recently announced the creation of a joint venture to build and operate a state-of-the-art export grain terminal in the U.S. port of Longview in Washington state. This investment will improve the balanced, global asset network that is a key driver of value for our company. We also announced an agreement to acquire Raisio, a European margarine producer. The transaction encompasses margarine plants in Finland and Poland as well as several brands. This will expand our food and ingredients business and enhance our efficiency."

In the six months ended June 30, Bunge net income was $70 million, or 64c per share, down 92% from $1,001 million, or $7.56, during the first half of 2008.

Regarding near-term prospects, both Mr. Weisser and Jacqualyn Fouse, chief financial officer, were upbeat.

""We remain optimistic for a solid second half of the year," Ms. Weisser said. "Lower soybean production in South America has limited oilseed processing utilization in Argentina. While challenging locally, this should continue to support crush margins on a global level. A large North American harvest, which according to early indicators is likely, should provide us with ample volumes for our agribusiness operations in that region."

Ms. Fouse predicted results would be more heavily weighted toward the fourth quarter, when the North American harvest is completed. She also predicted the company’s "fertilizer economics" would be "stabilized" later in the year.

"We are maintaining our 2009 full-year earnings guidance of $4.90 to $5.40 per share," she said.

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