(Adds ethanol plant reconfiguration, adds chief growth officer appointment, adds analyst quote, updates share price)
CHICAGO, Aug 1 (Reuters) - U.S. agricultural trader Archer Daniels Midland Co's second-quarter earnings topped expectations on Tuesday, sending shares higher, as strong sweetener and corn ethanol margins helped offset weak soybean processing results.
The company's global trading desk, which lost money in three of the past six quarters and has lost several top traders in the past two years, posted stronger results despite lower volumes.
"Under some tough conditions, we were able to deliver strong growth in earnings and returns," CEO Juan Luciano said on a conference call with analysts.
Plentiful global stocks of grain and oilseeds have squeezed profits over the past several quarters for ADM and rivals Bunge Ltd, Cargill Inc and Louis Dreyfus Co , collectively known as the ABCD quartet of global grain trading giants.
The grains glut has raised expectations for a wave of consolidation within the industry, with Bunge already having been targeted for takeover by rival commodity trader Glencore in May.
Bunge, which reports quarterly results on Wednesday, warned last month its profit would fall well below earlier forecasts.
"We expect shares to modestly outperform given the EPS upside in 2Q, with ADM able to overcome pressures in soybean crush and South American origination that caused peer Bunge to negatively pre-announce 2Q results two weeks ago," Goldman Sachs analyst Adam Samuelson said in a client note.
ADM and its rivals have been investing in higher-margin businesses such as food ingredients and natural flavorings to prop up slumping results from core grain trading and processing operations.
The company said Tuesday that it will reconfigure its Peoria, Illinois, ethanol dry mill to produce higher-margin industrial and beverage alcohol and fuel for the export market. The facility is one of several plants ADM offered up for sale last year, but still has not found a buyer.
ADM also announced the appointment of a new chief growth officer, Ian Pinner, who will focus on the company's portfolio of value-added products, including food ingredients.
Improved margins in sweeteners and starches and ethanol helped lift ADM's corn processing segment profit by 37 percent in the second quarter. But soybean processing earnings fell 12 percent as ample global supplies of high-protein feed grains that compete with soybean meal in feed rations weighed on crush margins.
Net profit attributable to the company fell to $276 million, or 48 cents a share, in the quarter ended June 30, from $284 million, or 48 cents a share, a year earlier.
Excluding items, the company earned 57 cents per share, beating analysts' estimate of 52 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
ADM shares were up about 3.2 percent at $43.53. (Additional reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Bill Trott)