UPDATE 3-Syngenta profit up 25 pct, more cautious on 2009

* Syngenta FY net profit $1.39 bln, up 25 pct

* Forecast was $1.44 bln

* Targets earnings per share growth in 2009

* Proposed dividend of 6 Swiss francs per share

* Shares reverse early losses, rise 5 pct (Adds shares, comment)

By Sam Cage

ZURICH, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Full-year net profit at Syngenta SYNN.VX, the world's largest agrochemicals group, rose 25 percent to $1.39 billion, helped by strong demand for its crop protection and seeds, just missing forecasts.

Syngenta AG, which makes products to kill weeds and bugs as well as producing genetically modified seeds, said on Friday it still targeted growth in earnings per share in 2009, versus a previous aim of high teens growth, and its shares gained nearly 5 percent.

"We remain actually quite cautiously optimistic about 2009 and despite some of the uncertainties in the economy, the fundamentals of agriculture are really strong," Chief Executive Mike Mack told Reuters. Rising crop prices and record food costs last year spurred farmers to expand planting, helping companies like Syngenta, which trades at about 11 times forecast 2009 earnings, a discount to U.S. rival Monsanto Co MON.N.

Syngenta’s sales rose 26 percent to $11.62 billion and when restructuring and impairment charges were stripped out, its profit rose 38 percent to $1.54 billion. It proposed a dividend of 6 Swiss francs per share.

Shares reversed small early losses and were 4.9 percent higher at 235.80 Swiss francs by 1422 GMT.

These were solid results which “should comfort rather than excite,” Credit Suisse analysts said in a note.

“That said, Syngenta continues to expect earnings growth in 2009 and continues to return cash to shareholders through high dividend payments. The stock remains one of our top picks in Europe, given its stability,” Credit Suisse said.

Chief Financial Officer John Ramsay said Syngenta had not seen a slowdown in the fourth quarter, despite the economic downturn, and saw some higher raw materials costs in 2009 as the effect of last year’s oil prices washed through.

Input costs should then ease going into 2010, Ramsay said.

It had been expected to post net profit of $1.44 billion, sales of $11.56 billion and propose a dividend of 5.77 francs, according to a Reuters poll. [ID:nL2248807] (Additional reporting by Andrew Thompson; Editing by Rupert Winchester)