WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK, U.S. — Bunge Ltd. returned to first-quarter profit thanks to the help of a Global Competitiveness Program. Net income of $45 million, or 26¢ per share, in the quarter ended March 31 compared with a loss of $21 million in the previous year’s first quarter. Sales dropped 7% to $9.938 billion from $10.641 billion.

The Global Competitiveness Program, introduced in July 2017 to simplify operations and streamline customer service, is on track to deliver a total savings of $250 million a year ahead of schedule, according to Bunge. The company achieved $200 million in cost reductions through 2018 and expects an incremental $50 million in 2019.

“GCP has already gone a long way to reduce costs, simplify how we work and help us think differently,” said Gregory A. Heckman, chief executive officer, in a May 8 earnings call. “We will use this momentum, along with the changes to our operating model, to develop a cost structure for the cyclical nature of our industry.”

Continued standardization of processes and a move to shared services, IT rationalization, and reductions in indirect spending primarily will drive the incremental savings this year, said Thomas M. Boehlert, executive vice-president and chief financial officer.

Bunge’s stock on the New York Stock Exchange closed at $53.44 per share on May 8, which was up from the May 7 close of $49.98 per share.

Within the company’s Edible Oil Products segment, a full quarter of Loders Croklaan ownership and higher margins in Brazil operations drove improved results. Bunge Ltd. on March 1, 2018, completed its acquisition of a 70% ownership interest in IOI Loders Croklaan for about $946 million from IOI Corporation Berhad. First-quarter EBIT was $48 million for Edible Oil Products, up from $28 million. Net sales of $2.239 billion were up 4.2% from $2.149 billion

Within the company’s Agribusiness, EBIT was $109 million, up from $42 million in the previous year’s first quarter, Net sales of $6.919 billion were down 7% from $7.462 billion. Within Agribusiness, soy crush margins in oilseeds were higher in the United States, Brazil and Europe due to Bunge’s decision in 2018 to hedge a portion of its first-half 2019 crush capacity. Also within Agribusiness, lower margins and volumes in grains were due to the combination of farmer retention of soybeans and reduced export demand from China.

A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast suggests global soybean inventories will exceed 107 million tonnes as of Sept. 1, a record high, Heckman said.

“Additionally, most of these inventories remain in the hands of producers, and we believe future producer marketing patterns will be affected by how the U.S.-China trade discussions evolve,” he said. “While these dynamics should create positive catalysts for our globally diverse footprint, the timing and the magnitude of these potential benefits remain unclear.”

In Milling Products, EBIT of $17 million was the same amount as in the previous year’s first quarter. Net sales of $426 million were up 4.2% from $409 million. Lower margins and volumes in Mexico more than offset improved results in Brazil. Results in the United States were similar to the results in the previous year’s first quarter.

Losses before interest and taxes were $24 million for Sugar & Bioenergy, which was the same figure as seen in the previous year’s first quarter. Net sales plunged 49% to $285 million from $563 million. The first quarter was the intercrop period as production for the season began toward the end of March. Sugar and ethanol sold during the first quarter was inventory from the previous harvest. Sugar cane milling results were slightly below last year primarily because of lower sugar and ethanol prices.

EBIT of $1 million for Fertilizer compared to a loss of $2 million before interest and taxes in the previous year’s first quarter. Net sales of $69 million were up 19% from $58 million.