Corn Products( CPO) posted fourth-quarter gains but missed Wall Street targets, citing weakness in its U.S. business.

The Westchester, Ill., dextrose giant made $23 million, or 31 cents a share, up from the year-ago $14 million, or 19 cents a share. Revenue rose 2% from a year ago for the quarter ended Dec. 31 to $586 million. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were looking for a 32-cent profit on sales of $613 million.

Operating income of $44 million was up significantly from $25 million in the comparable period in 2004, which included a restructuring charge, while operating margins were 7.5% compared to 4.4% a year ago. Lower fourth-quarter net corn costs were partially offset by higher logistics and energy costs, predominantly natural gas. The company's effective tax rate in the fourth quarter of 2005 was 34.4% vs. only 7.1% last year, while weighted average shares outstanding were 2% lower due to repurchases of approximately 1.7 million shares in the first nine months of the year.

"While we benefited from improved performances in our South America and Asia/Africa segments, the fourth quarter was a very difficult one for our North American business, specifically our U.S. operations," said CEO Sam Scott. "Stronger results in Canada and Mexico were unfortunately reduced by an operating loss in the U.S. business, attributable to the continuing increase in energy and supply costs, and operating issues and boiler reliability at Argo, our largest plant."

Corn Products said it is very disappointed with the preliminary duty on imported U.S. corn of $1.65 per bushel imposed by the Canada Border Services Agency, effective Dec. 15, 2005, and remains committed to mitigating or eliminating its impact. A decision on the final duty level is expected early in the second quarter. The company said it would give 2006 earnings guidance after there is "more clarity" on that and other issues.

"We're cautiously optimistic about prospects for meaningful earnings growth in 2006," said Scott. "We have achieved higher contract pricing in our U.S. and Canadian businesses for 2006. We are focused on resolving the issues in our U.S. operations, and expect a continuation of solid performances in our South American and Asia/Africa businesses."