SINGAPORE — Olam International has started well in executing the four key pathways of its 2019-24 strategic plan, including the recent acquisition of BT Cocoa in Indonesia and the proposed acquisition of Dangote Flour Mills in Nigeria.

Profit after tax and minority interests (PATMI) for the first quarter ended March 31 was S$168.8 million (U.S. $123 million), up nearly 7% from S$157.9 million in the same period a year ago.

Revenue for the quarter was S$7.348 billion (U.S. $5.355 billion), up 17% from S$6.295 billion a year ago. Sales volume was 8.461 million tonnes in the first quarter of 2019, up 22% from 6.965 million tonnes in the first quarter of 2018.

“We are pleased to announce a very strong start in executing our 6-year strategic plan, and that is reflected in our first-quarter financial results: volume up 21.5% to 8.5 million tonnes; EBITDA up 14.2% to S$420 million from S$368 million; more importantly our key operational metric that we track and report, our operational PATMI, up 11.3% at S$181 million, up from S$163 million in the first quarter of 2018,” Neelamani Muthukumar, president and group chief financial officer, said during a May 14 conference call with analysts. “Coming back on a very strong free cash flow to equity generated in 2018 of S$1 billion, we are pleased to announce that we have generated further free cash flow to equity of S$313 million in the first quarter of 2019. And all of these have resulted in terms of increased operational earnings and also very prudent balance sheet management at a certain lower gearing of 1.35x, down from 1.49x this time last year.”

Olam’s Food Staples & Packaged Foods earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) for the first quarter of fiscal 2019 totaled S$82.3 million, down 18% from a year earlier, reflecting reduced contribution from sugar and rice. Revenues, meanwhile, rose 33% to S$3.5 billion, primarily driven by growth in grains trading.

“We had — as part of the strategic plan, we have decided to exit the sugar business, and we have already acted on it,” Muthukumar said. “And we have closed down our sugar trading business desks both in London and Singapore and that has had an impact in terms of a comparative EBITDA contribution. And as we had indicated in the second half of 2018, due to intense competition in the merchandising business in hinterland of Western Africa, we had lowered down our indent or merchandising volumes in Africa. And that has continued to be the case in the first quarter of 2019. And that has also resulted in a lower contribution relatively in the rice platform.”