ST. LOUIS — “Nearly flawless” execution by its team led Bunge Ltd. to a strong financial performance during the third quarter, prompting the company to raise its outlook for the full fiscal year. News of the strong financials sent Bunge’s share price as high as $60.50 per share, up 8.6% over the previous day’s close and its highest level since Dec. 12, 2018.
“We had an exceptional quarter, and I couldn’t be more proud of our team’s outstanding execution,” Gregory A. Heckman, chief executive officer, said during an Oct. 28 conference call with analysts. “We achieved record crush utilization across our global footprint, and we remain agile, identifying opportunities and moving quickly to capture them as market conditions evolved. These results and our performance over the past few quarters reflect the meaningful changes we’ve made with a more global integrated operating model, improved portfolio and increased financial discipline.
“This is even more impressive considering our COVID protocols and how many members of the team have been working remotely. During the quarter, we continued rewiring the way we do business, and we made further progress on our portfolio initiative with additional announcements expected before the end of the year. With most of the work to divest of our noncore assets behind us, we’re now able to look ahead and effectively address our business needs down the road. On an ongoing basis, we’ll look for opportunities to continuously improve our portfolio to ensure we’re well positioned over the long term.”
Bunge raised its full-year profit guidance for the second straight quarter, saying it now expects 2020 earnings of $6.25 to $6.75 per share.
“While we can’t assume everything will always go perfectly given the inherent volatility in the global ag business, we are confident in our ability to protect our margins on the downside, manage our earnings at risk and expand on both when the opportunity exists,” Mr. Heckman said.
In the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Bunge posted income of $262 million, equal to $1.84 per share on the common stock, which compared with a loss of $1.5 billion in the third quarter a year ago. Bunge incurred $1.6 billion in charges in the third quarter a year ago, primarily related to assets classified as held for sale in the Sugar & Bioenergy business.
Sales were $10.16 billion, down 1.6% from $10.32 billion a year ago.
“Last quarter, we called out a number of drivers that could change our outlook for the third quarter,” Mr. Heckman said. “In most cases, the movements were positive. And the team did a great job of adjusting as things developed. On crush margin curves, we noted they’ve begun to increase. That improvement continued through the quarter in several regions, and margins ended the quarter much higher than the forward curves indicated in July.
“The tightening of vegetable oil across the complex we noted last quarter continued, particularly in South America and Europe. We’ve seen the demand for oil improve in the food channel as we move through the COVID environment and has been widely noted. Biofuels are creating incremental demand. We noted China was purchasing aggressively in the US, and we saw continued strong soybean flows to China, which helped to further tighten global supplies. We also saw China start buying corn. The impact of the situation in Argentina on our business is largely unchanged from last quarter. While the current environment does not allow us to fully utilize our Argentine system, we have flexed our global platform to meet customer demands.
“Finally, we noted that many customers were in the spot market. As we moved through the third quarter, customers begin to lock in their needs. And as I said, our ag and food teams did a great job executing as we helped customers at both ends of the value chain manage their risks. Our teams continue to do an excellent job collaborating with our customers to find solutions to their evolving needs related to COVID.”
Bunge’s largest division, Agribusiness, had adjusted segment EBIT in the third quarter of 2020 of $467 million, up sharply from $174 million in 2019. Agribusiness volumes were 35.89 million tonnes, down 2% from 36.55 million tonnes in the third quarter a year ago. Sales were $7.11 billion, up 1.4% from $7.01 billion in the third quarter of 2019.
John W. Neppl, chief financial officer, said during the call that Agribusiness results reflected strong execution throughout the value chains, especially in managing the capacity of Bunge’s assets, global trade flows and risks.
“Results in Grains improved, primarily driven by origination in South America, which benefited from strong execution and farmer selling as crop prices in local currency increased during the quarter,” Mr. Neppl said.
Adjusted EBIT of the Bunge Edible Oil Products division was $67 million, down 7% from $72 million in the third quarter of 2019. Sales were $2.43 billion, up from $2.32 billion.
Mr. Neppl said higher earnings in Brazil and Asia, which benefited from improved demand in food processor and consumer retail channels, were more than offset by lower earnings in North America and Europe.
Adjusted EBIT of the Milling Products division totaled $18 million in the third quarter of 2020, down narrowly from $19 million a year ago. Net sales decreased to $416 million from $437 million.
Higher results in Brazil, primarily driven by increased volumes, were slightly offset by lower margins in Mexico, Mr. Neppl said. He noted that results in Bunge’s US operations were comparable to the third quarter of fiscal 2019.