Monsanto reports steep drop in quarterly profit

Monsanto on Wednesday reported a 34 percent drop in quarterly profit, in part because of lower planted corn acreage in South America and a shift in timing of some sales, but the decline was less steep than analysts expected.

The world's largest seed company, known for its genetically engineered corn, soybeans and other crops as well as the popular Roundup herbicide, said net sales fell to $2.9 billion in the first quarter ended Nov. 30 from $3.1 billion a year earlier. Sales of corn seeds and genetic traits were down 12 percent.

Shares of Monsanto were up 1.5 percent at $117.52 in morning trading.

The company said sales of its soybean seed and trait products surged to $396 million from $267 million.

One key new product is the company's "Intacta RR2 PRO," a new soybean genetically engineered to fight off damaging worms and marketed to South American farmers.

New soybean products will be a core factor for profit growth this fiscal year, the company said, as corn acres in the United States and globally are seen dropping. The company's early order book and prepayments for spring planting in the United States point to strong soybean demand, Monsanto said.

Due in part to lowered U.S. corn acres planted this spring, Monsanto's second-quarter earnings are likely to drop 5 percent to 10 percent from a year earlier on an ongoing basis, company officials said.

The company said earnings fell to $243 million, or 50 cents a share, in the first quarter from $368 million, or 69 cents a share, a year earlier. Some analysts had been looking for profits to drop as much as 50 percent.

Excluding discontinued operations, earnings on an ongoing basis amounted to 47 cents a share. Analysts on average were expecting 34 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Monsanto said it still expected earnings per share of $5.75 to $6.00 in fiscal 2015.

In an update on its progress on new products, Monsanto said it was advancing disease-resistance breeding traits along with new insect control products, and was upgrading its farm data services.