Bunge earnings double as drought alters grain trade
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Bunge Ltd (BG.N) shares jumped on Thursday as the agribusiness giant doubled quarterly profits by mobilizing its global grain network to supply customers hit by the worst U.S. drought in more than 50 years.
Bunge said the world was modifying "typical trade flows" after poor weather slashed output in the United States, the world's top grain exporter, and other countries, tightening corn and soy supplies.
Shares were up 3.1 percent at $70.43 on the New York Stock Exchange.
"When global grain stocks are tight and certain regions need the grain, that's where Bunge comes in, in terms of transportation, storage and handling," said Jeffrey Stafford, analyst for Morningstar.
Investors cheered Bunge's results as the latest sign the four "ABCD" companies that dominate the global agricultural business - Archer Daniel Midlands Co (ADM.N), Bunge, Cargill Inc CARG.UL and Louis Dreyfus Corp LOUDR.UL - are emerging from a period of dismal earnings in which new competitors and volatile markets pressured profits.
There are signs the scramble for grains after the U.S. drought may be helping their recovery, as companies with geographically diverse resources can acquire and deliver grain where it is needed.
Cargill earlier this month said its broad global reach helped quarterly earnings quadruple from a year ago but warned the full impact of bad weather had not yet been seen.
Bunge managed 15 percent volume growth in its agribusiness segment during the third quarter, helped by new grain-handling and port facilities.
Bunge "had a great quarter," said Christine Healy, an analyst for Scotia Capital, on an investors' conference call. "Volumes I think were higher than what people expected."
Quarterly net earnings rose to $297 million, or $1.92 per share, from $140 million, or 89 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding one-time items, the company earned $2.08 per share, below analysts' average forecast of $2.17.
Net sales rose 10 percent to $17.29 billion. Analysts expected $17.80 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
UNUSUAL TRADE FLOWS
Global traders are still on edge about low supplies.
U.S. farmers harvested much less corn and soy than expected this year, and Ukraine's agriculture minister said his country, one of the top 10 wheat exporting countries, will ban such exports starting November 15 due to a weather-damaged harvest.
Yet, reduced wheat exports were expected from Ukraine, and a significant volume has already been shipped, Bunge Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alberto Weisser said in an interview.
Bunge has taken advantage of the unusual trading patterns caused by poor global weather, shipping corn to the United States from Brazil and exporting the grain from Ukraine.
Exports of corn from Brazil, which brought in a record harvest this year, are ongoing and a "very important component" of Bunge's business, Weisser said.
He noted that demand for feed for livestock had been surprisingly strong, despite high corn and soy prices.
"The current market environment, shaped most notably by the severe U.S. drought, has been and will continue to be volatile and complex for everyone who participates in our industry," he said.
Some long-time importers of U.S. corn have forged ties with alternative suppliers like Brazil, casting a shadow over continued U.S. dominance in the export markets, according to foreign grain buyers.
U.S. corn exports are projected to shrink this season to the lowest point since the mid-1970s, while rival exporters such as Brazil and Argentina have seen export volumes soar to record or near-record levels.
Weisser does not expect a permanent reordering of the global grain trade due to the U.S. drought.
"The U.S. is really the best in terms of corn," he said. "This is a unique situation we are having at the moment."
EYE ON AUSTRALIA
Investors have been keeping an eye on Bunge since rival ADM this week bid $2.8 billion for smaller Australian shipper GrainCorp (GNC.AX).
ADM's bid comes at a time of consolidation in the global grains sector amid intense competition for trading power to feed fast-developing countries seeking food security.
U.S. industry bankers have said Bunge and Cargill were no doubt evaluating rival bids.
Weisser declined to comment specifically on GrainCorp but said he was interested in expanding in Australia, adding that consolidation will likely continue in the grain industry.
Cargill also has declined to comment on GrainCorp.
"The market has shown that it is necessary to have large companies" with geographically diverse assets and strong balance sheets "to operate and serve the market in these volatile times," Weisser said. "We are part of it."
(Reporting By Tom Polansek in Chicago and Siddharth Cavale in Bangalore; Editing by Sreejiraj Eluvangal, John Wallace, Jim Marshall and Marguerita Choy)
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