Monsanto sees profit rise on more soy planting

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A Monsanto logo is pictured in the company headquarters in Morges, Switzerland, May 25, 2016. -- REUTERS

EVERYTHING’S pointing to another year of growth for US seed giant Monsanto.

Pretax earnings in the fiscal year through August are expected to increase, the St. Louis-based company said Thursday is its first quarter earnings statement. Commodity prices have stabilized from the free-fall of recent years, with corn prices starting 2018 at the same price they began 2017. Like last year, farmers are expected to buy the most expensive, newest hybrid seeds, and companies won’t have to slash prices to keep customers.

Prices “are challenging for growers, but when the environment is stable, they can figure out how to operate in that environment,” Brett Wong, an analyst at Piper Jaffray & Co., said by phone. “The industry has stabilized and there’s good demand for new products.”

While the company isn’t providing detailed guidance for full-year earnings, as its $66-billion takeover by Germany’s Bayer AG is still pending, Monsanto will be helped by growth in its soybean business. US farmers are planting the crop more than ever, devoting as many acres to the oilseed as they will to corn. Adoption of Xtend, the company’s new herbicide system for soy, is expected to double in acreage this year.

South American farmers are also buying more of the company’s Intacta-branded soybean seeds, which are resistant to caterpillars, and at higher prices, Christopher Perrella, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst, said in a note last month.

Recent US tax reform legislation will have a positive impact on Monsanto’s effective tax rate in fiscal 2019, the company said. Early estimates are that the rate for the current financial year shouldn’t be more than 30%, and could be lower.

Monsanto expects the Bayer deal to close in early 2018, with about half of regulatory approvals secured so far. It also said its digital agriculture platform, Climate FieldView, was on 35 million paid acres last year, and expects the total to grow to 50 million acres.

Roundup, Monsanto’s blockbuster herbicide, is also making a comeback. The price of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller, is rebounding faster than expected as Chinese producers of generic brands cut output due to environmental restrictions, Don Carson, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group, said in a note. The increase for gross profit in 2018 for the company’s unit that produces glyphosate will exceed $1 billion for the first time in three years, according to Carson.

A positive regulatory environment is also helping glyphosate, with the European Union recently renewing the chemical’s registration for five years, and the US Environmental Protection Agency concluding that it likely doesn’t cause cancer.

Monsanto’s Xtend made headlines last year because dicamba, a herbicide that the new seeds are resistant to, has a propensity to drift when sprayed. There have been thousands of complaints made by farmers who say drifting dicamba damaged non-resistant crops in adjacent fields. The EPA has issued more restrictive rules for applying the herbicide, and some states are adding other constraints.

Monsanto’s corn business saw lower volumes in the US and Brazil, and its profit declined 22% in the first quarter.

Overall, net income excluding one-time items was 41 cents a share in the three months through November compared with 21 cents a year earlier. That compares with the 42-cent average of 14 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Revenues of $2.65 billion missed the $2.77-billion average estimate. — Bloomberg