Drought makes impact on Cargill quarterly earnings

by Josh Sosland
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MINNEAPOLIS – Net income at Cargill in the third quarter ended Feb. 28 was $445 million, down 42 percent from $766 million in the third quarter last year. Revenues were $32.2 billion, up 1 percent.
For the nine months ended Feb. 28, earnings were $1,830 million, up 66 percent from the same period the year before.

While third-quarter earnings were down from a year ago, Greg Page, Cargill chairman and chief executive officer, said the results had positives including affirming the balance that comes from a diversified portfolio.

“In North America, our meat processing businesses were pressured by the drought-related high cost of feed ingredients,” he said. “Even though many of our global food ingredients businesses experienced higher input costs, they nearly matched their strong performance in last year's third quarter.”

Breaking down results between the company’s various business segments, Cargill said earnings in agriculture services fell because of the prolonged impact of last year's drought-reduced crops in North America. Animal nutrition results were hurt by a currency devaluation in Venezuela and by difficult economic conditions in meat and dairy production in several regions.

“Third-quarter earnings in origination and processing were below the prior year, with mixed results across regions,” Cargill said. “Export demand for US soybeans and meal was strong all quarter due to limited pre-harvest supplies in South America. Brazil's harvest began in February, but weather delays and logistical challenges significantly reduced soybean and soybean product exports below expectations.”

Also down from a year ago were profits from the Cargill food ingredients and applications segment.

“Performance in food ingredients reflected value-creating customer solutions, good risk management and attention to costs, although the Venezuelan currency devaluation was a factor in holding results below the year-ago level,” the company said. “The animal protein businesses were negatively affected in North America by high feeding costs, tight cattle supplies and an oversupplied turkey market. Cargill's beef processing plant in Plainview, Texas, was idled in February because of the tight cattle supply brought about by years of drought in Texas and Southern Plains states. A related, one-time charge to earnings was taken.”

On a nine-month basis, results in global animal protein were ahead of last year.

Cargill described its risk management and financial segment results as “moderately below” the previous year’s third quarter.

“Asset management activities performed well, though not as briskly as last year when financial markets rallied in response to easing in the European debt crisis,” Cargill said. “Results in energy trailed the year-ago period.”

Cargill’s industrial segment achieved higher earnings. While sales volumes of road deicing products were higher than last year, production volumes fell because of left over inventories from the mild North American winter in 2011-12. Cargill’s acquisition of a vegetable oil-based dielectric fluid business earlier in fiscal 2013 was accretive to segment earnings through the first nine months. The products are used to cool transformers and electrical equipment.

In other updates, Cargill said it opened a food innovation center in Gurgaon, India, in January, calling it “the first of its kind in India's food industry and Cargill's third in Asia.” The center’s work will focus on helping customers create new or improved bakery, confectionery and convenience foods.

Cargill also commented on its recently announced plans to create Ardent Mills as a joint venture with CHS and ConAgra Mills.

“The intent is to help bakery and food company customers innovate and grow,” the company said. “Ardent Mills will offer the broadest range of flours, mixes and specialty products, supported by an extensive flour milling network in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. It will operate as an independent joint venture, owned 44 percent each by Cargill and ConAgra Foods and 12 percent by CHS. The transaction is expected to be completed in late calendar year 2013, following regulatory clearances, financing and the satisfaction of customary closing conditions.”

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