* Q4 loss 21 cents per share, vs year-ago loss of $1.89
* Fertilizer loss, agribusiness weaker than expected
* FY 2010 EPS outlook $5.75 to $6.25
* Shares down 4.3 pct (Adds analyst quote, updates stock activity)
By Karl Plume
CHICAGO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Bunge Ltd (BG.N) reported a fourth-quarter net loss on Thursday as its fertilizer segment continued to lose money and agribusiness results were weaker than expected, sending its shares down more than 4 percent.
The results overshadowed Bunge’s 2010 profit outlook, which an analyst said appeared to be better than expected.
Vincent Andrews of Morgan Stanley said he expected investors to focus on Bunge’s fourth-quarter weakness in agribusiness against Archer Daniels Midland Co (ADM.N).
The rival agribusiness, which has a smaller footprint in South America, reported stronger-than-expected results this week amid strong profits in grain and oilseed processing and ethanol. [ID:nN02199457]
However, “Bunge is likely to be better positioned than ADM in 2010 due to a much larger South American crop year-over-year,” Andrews noted.
Bunge said its fourth-quarter net loss narrowed to $28 million, or 21 cents per share, after charges from convertible preference share dividends. The year-earlier loss was $210 million, or $1.89 per share.
Revenue fell to $10.44 billion from $10.94 billion, missing analysts’ estimates of $10.77 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Poor fertilizer margins and lackluster sales in South America because of tight credit and lower farm incomes due to drought-reduced production hit Bunge hard in 2009.
“In 2009, fertilizer generated significant losses, which stemmed from a difficult market characterized by high-cost inventory and a weak price environment,” Bunge Chief Executive Officer Alberto Weisser said.
Bunge said its fertilizer loss had narrowed to $174 million from $289 million a year earlier. It was the fifth consecutive quarterly loss for the unit, the largest producer and supplier of fertilizer in South America last year.
Bunge agreed last month to sell its Brazilian fertilizer assets to mining company Vale (VALE5.SA). [ID:nN27166536]
Bunge’s agribusiness segment posted a profit of $60 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $86 million, but results were weaker than expected.
Tight global soybean supplies due to a drought in South America helped Bunge’s U.S. and European oilseed businesses turn profits, but those were largely offset by losses in South American grain origination, oilseed processing and distribution.
Edible oils profit totaled $114 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $47 million. Milling products earnings were unchanged at $18 million.
Bunge said it had a positive outlook for 2010, forecasting full-year earnings of $5.75 to $6.25 per share, assuming it completes a deal announced in December to acquire Brazilian sugar and ethanol producer Moema.
Analysts on average were expecting profit of $5.80 this year, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
“Record harvests in North America and projections for record soybean production in South America, combined with an improved global demand picture should result in higher volumes for agribusiness and food and ingredients,” Chief Financial Officer Jacqualyn Fouse said.
She said improved fertilizer demand in Brazil and expected profits from Bunge’s expanded sugar and bioenergy units added to the optimistic outlook.
Shares of Bunge were down 4.3 percent at $57.88 on Thursday. (Reporting by Karl Plume; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)