WHITE PLAINS, NEW YORK, U.S. – Lower grain margins and tax law changes weighed on Bunge earnings for the fourth quarter, leading to a loss of $60 million compared with a profit of $271 million a year earlier.

For the year ended Dec. 31, 2017, the company reported earnings of $160 million, down from $745 million in the previous year.

The company has been the subject of takeover speculation, first by Switzerland-based Glencore PLC in May 2017 and most recently Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) in January. ADM said in its earnings call earlier this month that it would not comment on speculation.

Likewise, Bunge made no mention of the takeover bids in its earnings release.

Soren W. Schroder
Soren Schroder, Bunge’s chief executive officer

"While industry headwinds persisted through the end of the year, we made good progress in 2017 towards our strategic objectives by taking proactive steps to improve our cost structure and create a more balanced business,” said Soren Schroder, Bunge’s chief executive officer.

He said the company is seeing positive signs that soy processing conditions are improving, which supports expectations that all segments will show year-over-year earnings growth in 2018.

“We expect a soft first quarter with improving conditions throughout the remainder of the year," Schroder said.

In 2017, Grains and Oilseeds results were lower as margins remained weak. Results in North America were lower than expected, but higher than last year, due to positioning, the company said.

Lower origination results in South America were driven by the combination of weak margins and farmers’ delayed pricing of 2018 crops.

Bunge soybean
In Oilseeds, structural processing margins overall remained depressed during the quarter, primarily due to an oversupply of soymeal in destinations. Compared to last year, higher soy crushing results in Brazil were more than offset by lower crushing results in Europe, Argentina and Asia.

However, conditions improved toward the end of the quarter as Argentine crushers reduced production, bringing global soymeal supply into better balance with demand, Bunge said.

The decline in Milling Products results was primarily in Brazil, where margins were negatively impacted by consumers trading down on value and where the small bakery channel continued to experience soft demand.

Also impacting results in Brazil, was aggressive pricing by small mills, which increased production in response to the above average Brazilian wheat crop, Bunge said.

In the U.S., margins and volumes were higher. In Mexico, results benefitted from higher volumes reflecting new customer wins. This was the third straight quarter of sequential volume improvement in Mexico and reflects a new quarterly high for the business.