ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI, U.S. — As its fiscal year draws to a close, Monsanto Company on Aug. 31 confirmed the drivers of its fourth-quarter operating plan have tracked well with management expectations, positioning the company to conclude the fiscal year within its previous guidance ranges for ongoing earnings per share (EPS) and free cash flow.
The company expects ongoing EPS for the fiscal year in the range of $2.40 to $2.45 a share, at the low end of its previous $2.40 to $2.60 guidance range. This expectation reflects strong quarterly seed and trait sales in Latin America and other international markets, solid fourth-quarter performance of Monsanto's crop-protection business, and the realization of discrete tax benefits. The company continues to expect free cash flow in the range of $400 million to $500 million for the fiscal year.
"Our operating plan for the quarter and the conclusion of the fiscal year focused on delivering on our revised commitments and setting up our business for mid-teens earnings growth going forward," said Chief Financial Officer Carl Casale. "With a solid wrap to the quarter, we'll turn the page and start a new chapter as our growth focus shifts squarely to our seeds-and-traits business."
Implementation of the company's strategic repositioning of the Roundup business has been successful, Casale said. Earlier this year, Monsanto announced it would lower prices of Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides in key geographies to bring them more in line with generics. In the fourth quarter, the company saw significant channel support for its new product positioning in multiple markets, reflected in stronger-than-expected branded volume, particularly among U.S. customers. Additionally, the company resolved outstanding issues related to a supply agreement in the quarter, which contributed to the quarter and helps align the business going forward.
Casale reported that the company continues to make good progress with its new weed management approach built on using the Roundup brand to support the seeds-and-traits business. The strategy will allow Monsanto to offer multiple weed control options for farmers, while decreasing overall infrastructure and support for the crop-protection business, including reduced working capital and SG&A expense. This strategy enables the company to extend its cost-management efforts to streamline the Roundup business to scale it for its expected steady-state contribution to the ongoing business. Monsanto extended its restructuring program to cover an estimated $180 million pre-tax to conclude the crop protection strategic alignment and better align the resourcing for corporate supporting functions. Approximately $150 million of the charge is expected to be recorded in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2010. The restructuring charge will affect as-reported EPS by approximately 22¢ and will be primarily reflected in fiscal year 2010 with the remaining charge in fiscal year 2011.
As a result of these actions, the company projects a steady-state gross profit contribution of $250 million to $300 million from the Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicide business, and that the business will be both EBIT positive and a key contributor to cash for fiscal year 2011.
Casale said Monsanto continues to be on track to maintain SG&A expenses in the range of $2 billion to $2.1 billion for fiscal year 2010. With the incremental benefit of the additional cost-management, the company expects to be well within its expected range of flat to inflationary growth in SG&A expense for fiscal year 2011.
Additionally in the fourth-quarter, Monsanto expects to recognize the benefits of several discrete tax items that are anticipated to further lower the company's projected tax rate below the previous range of better than 29% to 30% for the fiscal year.
Monsanto will provide a complete report on fourth-quarter and fiscal-year earnings on Oct. 6.