WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK, U.S. — Better-than-expected earnings in grains helped boost Agribusiness results at Bunge Ltd., leading to an overall strong quarterly performance at the White Plains-based company in the third quarter ended Sept. 30.
Bunge posted income of $357 million in the third quarter, equal to $2.44 per share on the common stock, up sharply from $84 million, or 59¢ per share, in the same period a year ago.
Sales were $11.412 billion, down narrowly from $11.423 billion.
Charges in the third quarter of fiscal 2018 included $7 million for severance, benefits and other costs ($9 million in 2017); $1 million for acquisition and integration costs in the Edible Oil Products division (zero in 2017); $2 million in sugar restructuring charges ($4 million in 2017); and $16 million in loss on disposition of equity investment in the Agribusiness division. Overall, special charges totaled $18 million in the third quarter of 2018, versus charges of $22 million in the third quarter of 2017.
“Bunge delivered a strong quarter, which puts us on track for a very good year and growth beyond,” Soren W. Schroder, chief executive officer, said during an Oct. 31 conference call with analysts. “Agribusiness results were led by soy crush, which executed margins in the $50 per ton range, and new mark-to-market gains were approximately $155 million. Origination in Brazil picked up with the weakening of the real in the quarter leading to higher-than-expected earnings in grains.
“Our team navigated well through a complicated market environment and is making sure we monetize the physical position in soybeans we built during the second quarter.
“Crushing results should remain favorable for the balance of the year and into 2019. However, low commodity prices and the stronger Brazilian real, along with the unsettled Brazilian freight situation, is adding uncertainty to origination volume. That said, we remain optimistic that we’ll finish the year in the upper half of the $800 million to $1 billion outlook range previously established. Agribusiness returns are expected to be well above cost of capital, led by soy crushing.”
Bunge’s largest division, Agribusiness, had EBIT in the third quarter of 2018 of $464 million, up sharply from $103 million in 2017. Agribusiness volumes were 37.69 million tonnes, up 1% from 37.316 million in the third quarter a year ago. Sales were $7.905 billion in the third quarter of 2018, up 2% from $7.720 billion.
Thomas M. Boehlert, executive vice-president and chief financial officer, said during the call that the improved Agribusiness results reflected improvements in both oilseeds and grains.
“In grains, higher results in the quarter were driven by improved origination results in Brazil, which benefited from increased farmer commercialization as local soybean prices rose from the combination of currency devaluation and strong export demand,” Boehlert said. “Origination results in North America were higher than last year but did not materially contribute to the overall results. And results in ocean freight were higher than last year.”
EBIT of the Bunge Edible Oil Products division was $30 million in the third quarter of 2018, down 12% from $34 million in the same period a year ago. Sales were $2.298 billion for the quarter, up 13% from $2.027 billion.
Boehlert said the lower EBIT in Edible Oil Products reflected a $10 million item relating to a Loders’ raw material supply contract revaluation.
EBIT of the Milling Products division totaled $30 million in the third quarter of 2018, up 30% from $23 million a year ago. Net sales increased to $427 million from $397 million.
“Brazil was the biggest driver of the improvement, where better margins reflected a smaller domestic wheat crop, and volumes increased on share gains,” Boehlert said. “In North America, Milling results in both the U.S. and Mexico were similar to last year.”
Boehlert said Bunge continues to maintain “strict discipline” on capital expenditure spending. During the first nine months of fiscal 2018 the company invested $318 million, which compared with $485 million in the same period a year ago. The company also invested $968 million in acquisitions during the first nine months.
Looking ahead to the remainder of fiscal 2018, Boehlert said, “In Agribusiness, we expect our full year EBIT results to be in the upper half of the $800 million to $1 billion range, with fourth-quarter results driven by our Northern Hemisphere operations. In Food & Ingredients, we’re reducing our full year EBIT outlook to $250 million to $270 million, reflecting a weaker-than-expected third quarter and the slower-than-originally anticipated margin recovery in Brazil Edible Oils.
“Milling should continue to benefit from higher margins in Brazil due to a smaller local wheat crop. In Sugar & Bioenergy, we’re adjusting our full-year EBIT outlook range from breakeven to a loss of between $20 million and $40 million. This is the result of an expected reduction in cane crush volumes of over 1 million tons as compared to our last estimate, reflecting the effect of the drought in Brazil. We now expect our Milling operations to be around breakeven for the full year. The range also incorporates a year-to-date loss of approximately $25 million in trading and distribution.”
He said Bunge now expects capital expenditures to total approximately $600 million, a $50 million reduction from the company’s previous estimate of $650 million, reflecting discipline in capital allocation.
Near the end of the conference call Schroder was asked about the strategic review that the company earlier in the day announced it would undertake, along with the addition of three new board members.
He said the new board members — Paul J. Fribourg, chairman and chief executive officer of Continental Grain Co.; Gregory A. Heckman, founding partner of Flatwater Partners (and former CEO and president of The Gavilon Group, LLC); and Henry W. Winship, president of Pacific Point Capital, L.LC. — all have “fantastic insight in agribusiness and in commodities in general.”
“Combined with our existing board and the three that are now going on that committee, they will have a fresh look at everything we’re doing, from our ongoing programs to anything else,” Schroder said. “I don’t want to handicap it. I know that there’s no preconceived solution to this. There is a sense that we need to take a step back and look at everything we’ve done. I’m absolutely convinced we’ve done many things very right. Is it possible that we’ll come up with some new ideas? For sure. It will be arrogant to assume that we thought of everything. And that’s what this is about. But it’s not about one specific action or direction.”