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Agrium Beats Bullish Drum for 2010

CALGARY, Alberta ( TheStreet) -- Fertilizer concern Agrium (AGU - Get Report) capped a high-drama year full of collapsing end-markets and hostile takeover campaigns by saying the turnaround in its business had begun in earnest.

The Calgary-based company offered a fairly bullish outlook without providing detailed guidance. "The fourth quarter of 2009 saw the initial stages of recovery in the crop input sector," said Agrium CEO Mike Wilson in a statement similar to the one he gave when the company reported third-quarter results.

"Agrium is looking forward to a significant recovery in the crop input markets in 2010," Wilson continued.

Still, looking back, Agrium's fourth-quarter numbers were a little strange. The company said it would have posted a profit of 53 cents a share if it weren't for items such as a $35 million loss on hedging positions -- mostly natural gas, a key ingredient in the production of nitrogen fertilizers -- and $34 million to pay for "stock-based compensation." That adjusted bottom-line number appeared to surpass -- by a wide margin -- the consensus Wall Street target, which called for 24 cents a share.

But both hedging and compensation are standard costs of doing business that analysts typically bake into their forecasting models. Taking the items into account, Agrium's net income was 19 cents a share, or $30 million, less than the Wall Street target by a nickel.

A year ago, the company posted net income of $124 million, or 79 cents a share. Indeed, year-over-year comparisons remain unkind. Revenue fell 24% to $1.5 billion in the fourth quarter, slightly below the consensus estimate of $1.55 billion.

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