Agribusiness poised to drive growth at Bunge in 2012

by Eric Schroeder
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NEW YORK — Executives at Bunge Ltd. feel “better” about 2012 now than they did before the beginning of the year, as the White Plains, N.Y.-based company’s agribusiness appears poised to drive growth.

Speaking at the BMO Capital Markets Farm to Market Conference May 15 in New York, Drew Burke, chief financial officer and global operational excellence officer at Bunge, said the company’s business will meet objectives and actually may exceed what previously was expected, due in large part to a positive outlook for its agribusiness.

“The grain business in South America was off to a great start in the first quarter, and while the soy crop is significantly reduced in Brazil and Argentina, the early portion of the season should be good for us,” Mr. Burke said. “The biggest impact of that reduced crop is there will only be product to crush for export, and to have strong exports out of Brazil through the August period, they will not continue as they normally did into the U.S. harvest. That will obviously reduce our performance in Brazil somewhat, but we believe it will be more than offset by the much stronger export pull on North America, both for the large corn crop that you’ll have in North America, plus we think soymeal exports will be elevated, and that will help be supportive to U.S. crush margins.”

Expectations in Europe are for strong sunseed, grains and soy crops, with a slightly weaker rapeseed crush, Mr. Burke said.

He said Bunge expects “significant improvement” in its sugar and bioenergy business in 2012 as well, adding that the business “has probably been the most frustrating thing for us.”

A drought following the acquisition of Moema in 2010 led to a decline in the sugarcane available for production. As a result, Bunge only had 14 million tons of sugarcane available for production against a capacity of 21 million tons, leaving Bunge operating “well below our production,” Mr. Burke said.

A planting program put in place last year should bring cane available for crushing from 14 million tons last year to 17 million to 18 million in 2012, Mr. Burke said.

“This is a very significant increase,” he said. “We’ve started to harvest, and we feel confident that the 17 million to 18 million tons is the right arena for our sugarcane crush, and that will enable us to earn significantly higher results in that business. It is a very levered and high-fixed cost business, and we expect another jump up in our sugar business next year.”

To achieve that jump up in business, he said Bunge intends to plant more than 70,000 hectares to sugarcane this year, which would allow the company to run closer to its capacity of 21 million tons.

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