Top Stories
Top Stories
Wires

UPDATE 3-ADM considers ethanol spinoff as Q1 profit falls on severe weather

P.J. Huffstutter and Shradha Singh

(Changes headline, changes lede, adds EPS)

CHICAGO/BENGALURU, April 26 (Reuters) - Archer Daniels Midland Co said on Friday it was considering spinning off its ethanol business after slim biofuel margins and Midwestern floods slammed the U.S. grains merchant's profit, which tumbled 41 percent in the first quarter.

ADM said it was creating an ethanol subsidiary, which will include dry mills in Columbus, Nebraska; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Peoria, Illinois.

The ethanol subsidiary will report as an independent segment, the company said, allowing options "which may include, but are not limited to, a potential spin-off of the business to existing ADM shareholders."

Results were hit by the "bomb cyclone" blizzards that devastated the Midwest and Great Plains this year, causing massive flooding across Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri, washing out rail lines and wreaking havoc in the moving and processing of corn, soybeans and wheat. One-sixth of U.S. ethanol production was halted.

In March, ADM warned Wall Street that flooding and severe winter weather in the U.S. Midwest would reduce its first-quarter operating profit by $50 million to $60 million.

"The first quarter proved more challenging than initially expected," said Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Juan Luciano, with earnings down in its starches, sweeteners and bioproducts unit. Luciano said impacts of the severe weather ultimately "were on the high side of our initial estimates".

Ongoing problems in the ethanol industry added to the problems and "limited margins and opportunities" for ADM, Luciano said.

The ethanol industry has been in the midst of a historic downswing due to the U.S.-China trade war, excess domestic supply and weak margins.

ADM, which had been an ethanol pioneer, signaled to Wall Street in 2016 that it was hunting for options and considering sales of its U.S. dry ethanol mills. Luciano told Reuters this year that offers ADM had received for the mills were too low.

In addition, ADM said it planned to repurpose its corn wet mill in Marshall, Minnesota, to produce higher volumes of food and industrial-grade starches.

Other major traders are alsy trying to distance themselves from struggling ethanol businesses. Louis Dreyfus Company BV spun off its Brazilian sugar and ethanol business Biosev in 2013. Rival Bunge sold its sugar book and has sought a buyer for its Brazilian mills since 2013.

ADM, which makes money trading, processing and transporting crops, such as corn, soybeans and wheat, has been looking to strengthen its core business. Last month it said it would seek voluntary early retirements of some North American employees and cut jobs as part of a restructuring effort.

The company expects to lower 2019 capital spending by 10 percent to between $800 million and $900 million.

Net earnings attributable to the company fell to $233 million, or 41 cents per share, in the three months ended March 31, from $393 million, or 70 cents per share, a year earlier.

Revenue fell to $15.30 billion from $15.53 billion. On an adjusted basis, the company earned 46 cents per share, while analysts on average had estimated 60 cents, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. (Reporting by Shradha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)