By Jacob Bunge
Monsanto Co. returned to profitability in its latest quarter as executives said its planned $57 billion sale to Bayer AG remains on track.
The biotech seed developer said expanded South American corn planting and currency shifts helped deliver bigger-than-anticipated profits, though not enough to raise its longer-term earnings forecast.
Monsanto and other sellers of seeds and pesticides have struggled against a multiyear slide in the prices of major crops like corn and soybeans, which has slashed farmers' incomes and forced them to scrutinize spending on farm supplies.
The slide has played into a wave of consolidation among the half-dozen conglomerates that dominate the global seed and crop chemical business, including Monsanto's agreed sale to Bayer, which Monsanto investors blessed in December.
"With the vote behind us, our team's working with Bayer on required regulatory filings and key stakeholder outreach," said Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chief executive and chairman, on a conference call discussing the company's quarterly results Thursday. The companies submitted notice of the merger plan to U.S. antitrust officials and will file documents to the European Union by the end of March, he said.
The companies have pitched the deal as uniting Monsanto's prowess in crop genetics with Bayer's deep pesticide portfolio, with limited overlap between the two businesses. "Where overlaps do exist, Bayer anticipates and is committed to undertake a certain level of divestitures as required by regulatory agencies," Mr.Grant said.
Monsanto shares climbed 0.6% to $105.67 in midmorning trade Thursday.
For the quarter ended Nov. 30, Monsanto's seed revenue jumped by nearly one-third, underpinned by a 25% increase in planted corn acreage in Argentina and 10% in Brazil, the company said. Monsanto has also gotten a boost from the strengthening Brazilian real. Executives described strong U.S. demand for new genetically engineered soybeans designed to withstand a stronger combination of herbicides, able to kill weeds that have developed resistance to Monsanto's signature Roundup weedkiller.
Monsanto President Brett Begemann said that so far seed companies haven't revived seed-pricing battles that Monsanto last year blamed for eroding some profits, though he said Monsanto is prepared to protect its market share if need be.
The St. Louis company stuck with its forecast of $4.50 to $4.90 a share in fiscal 2017 from its ongoing business, potentially rising as much as 9.4% from the $4.48 Monsanto earned in its fiscal 2016. Mr. Grant on Thursday declined to project earnings growth beyond the current year, but said that the company is counting more on delivering new and more-profitable products and services than any major recovery in the farm economy.
Mr. Grant did make a case for crop demand rising over time, however, citing U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that global demand for the grain grew by about 4 billion bushels over the past four U.S. growing seasons, while soybean demand climbed by more than 2 billion bushels. Meeting the USDA's projections for continued demand growth over the next decade would require corn yields to double, and soybean yields to quadruple, Mr. Grant said.
Monsanto reported net income of $29 million, or 7 cents a share, compared with a year-prior's net loss of $253 million, or 56 cents a share.
Excluding certain items, per-share earnings swung to a profit of 21 cents from a loss of 11 cents a year earlier. Total sales climbed 19% to $2.65 billion.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting net income of a penny a share on revenue of $2.27 billion.
--Joshua Jamerson contributed to this article
Write to Jacob Bunge at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 05, 2017 12:15 ET (17:15 GMT)
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