UPDATE 3-Agco earnings blow past Wall Street forecasts
* Q1 EPS $1.21 vs Street view 86 cents * Raises full-year EPS outlook to $5.50 from $5.00 * Growing share in high-margin businesses * Shares up 8 percent By Scott Malone May 1 (Reuters) - Farm equipment maker Agco Corp said first-quarter earnings surged 50 percent, blowing past Wall Street forecasts, helped by strong sales in North America and a pickup in European demand for agricultural equipment. The results were driven by booming growth in demand for agricultural commodities -- U.S. farmers this year planted the largest corn crop in 75 years -- and the maker of tractors and combine harvesters raised its full-year profit forecast by 10 percent. " In North America, the economics for farmers continue to be outstanding and the market demand for large equipment remains very strong," Martin Richenhagen, the company's chief executive, said on a conference call. The company's expects to have a higher level of production in the first half of 2012 than the second, when it plans to revamp a German factory, he said. Agco shares soared 8.4 percent to $50.48 on the New York Stock Exchange. The company said on Tuesday that profit was $120.2 million, or $1.21 per share in the first quarter, compared with $80 million, or 81 cents per share, a year earlier. Sales rose 26.5 percent to $2.27 billion. Analysts, on average, expected 86 cents per share on sales of $2.06 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. MARGIN HORSEPOWER Results were boosted by growing sales of high-powered tractors as well as the company's acquisition last year of GSI Holdings, a maker of silos used to store grain. Those two businesses command higher profit margins than some of Agco's other operations, said Adam Fleck, an analyst with Morningstar in Chicago. "If you look at the North American results, with almost a 9 percent operating margin, that's the strongest that they've put up on a quarterly level in recent memory," Fleck said. "It seems like they could be taking some market share in high-horsepower tractors, and those are some high-margin products." The Duluth, Georgia-based company got its biggest boost in North America, where sales rose 57.6 percent to $566.5 million. Sales in its largest market -- Europe, the Middle East and Africa -- rose 23.3 percent to $1.2 billion. The company said it now looks for full-year earnings of about $5.50 per share, up from its earlier forecast of $5.00. Agco's rivals include Deere & Co and CNH Global . CNH last week reported higher-than-expected, first-quarter profit helped by a 22 percent surge in sales. Deere is due to report results for its just-ended second fiscal quarter later this month. Analysts have forecast 19 percent profit growth. As of Monday's close, Agco shares had slid 18 percent over the past year, a steeper slide than the 3 percent decline of the Standard & Poor's capital goods industry index. A Federal Reserve report released on Monday showed that loans to farmers, which help finance equipment purchases, rose 26 percent in the first quarter.