(Rewrites throughout, adds company comments)
CHICAGO/BANGALORE, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Bunge Ltd reported a fourth-quarter loss on Wednesday compared with a profit a year earlier, and blamed tax law changes and lower margins in its grains business for its results falling far short of analyst expectations.
White Plains, N.Y.-based Bunge said sales in its agribusiness segment, the company's largest revenue generator, fell 3.5 percent to $7.90 billion even as volumes rose.
JP Morgan analysts had expected the business to post $8.8 billion in sales and said the weak result was due to lower grain originations in South America as farmers delayed pricing of 2018 crops.
The results are expected to raise pressure on the global agricultural trading house's management team to find a potential buyer or take other steps to shore up its agribusiness division amid weakening global trading and crush margins.
Bunge and other agricultural traders, including Archer Daniels Midland Co and Cargill, have been trying to diversify into higher-margin sectors such as food ingredients and aquaculture amid falling grain prices.
The subject of a takeover offer by larger rival Archer Daniels, Bunge said net loss available to shareholders was $69 million, or 48 cents per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with a profit of $262 million, or $1.82 per share, a year earlier. Last year, Bunge rebuffed a takeover approach by rival Swiss-based commodities trader Glencore.
Soren Schroder, the company's chief executive officer, did not make reference to any of the potential deals in prepared comments on Wednesday.
Instead, he said Bunge's fourth-quarter oilseed margins "did not recover as quickly as expected," and its sugarcane milling results suffered from extended rains late in the fourth quarter.
Schroder said Bunge was expecting a "soft first quarter," but said conditions would improve in 2018.
Separately, Dutch food ingredients company Corbion said on Wednesday it is in talks to buy Bunge's 49.9 percent stake in their oil joint venture in Brazil.
Bunge took a $66 million charge due to tax law changes in the United States and Argentina.
Net sales fell 1.6 percent to $11.61 billion. (Editing by Maju Samuel and Bernadette Baum)