Bunge ( BG) reported a first-quarter loss while Potash ( POT) saw a sharp drop in profit as the demand for fertilizer products fell. Bunge said Thursday that it lost $195 million, or $1.76 per share, compared with a profit of $289 million, or $2.10 per share, in the year-ago quarter. Sales fell 26% to $9.2 billion, from $12.47 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a profit of 49 cents per share and revenue of $11 billion. Bunge, based in White Plains, N.Y., reported declines in all four of its main businesses -- agribusiness, fertilizer, edible oil products and milling products. Sales in the agribusiness division fell 25% to $6.6 billion, while fertilizer sales dropped 41% to $699 million. "The start to 2009 was more challenging than expected," said Alberto Weisser, Bunge's chairman and chief executive officer. "Bunge's first-quarter results reflect this. Retail fertilizer margins in Brazil suffered from aggressive price reductions by competitors, which drove sales prices below international levels. "Additionally, global demand for soybean meal was soft. Despite this difficult start, our confidence in a recovery in our markets and a solid performance in the second half of the year remains strong." The company reduced its 2009 earnings guidance to $4.90 to $5.40 per share from a previous forecast of $6.90 to $7.60, but said it remained optimistic about a turnaround in the second half of the year. Potash, based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, saw first-quarter earnings drop 46%, to $308.3 million, or $1.02 per share, from $566 million, or $1.74 a share. but the showing surpassed Wall Street estimates of 86 cents.
Potash said Thursday that it expected second-quarter earnings per share of $1.10 to $1.50, below analysts' average forecast of $2.21. "The first quarter demonstrated the benefits of our potash strategy of matching supply to market demand, as well as our ability to remain profitable even during periods of demand deferral," said Potash President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Doyle. "While buyers have delayed purchases since the fourth quarter of 2008, the need for potash and other fertilizers cannot be denied. The fundamentals of our business remain extremely favorable, with historically low global grain stocks, supportive crop prices, depleting customer potash inventories and expectations of tight potash supply/demand dynamics for at least the next five years."