Monsanto Up on Signs of Recovery

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Monsanto (MON) shares rose sharply Thursday after the controversial seed producer eked out a profit and reported sales figures that suggested a recovery in its battered core business.

The St. Louis-based company struggled last year on a number of fronts. Most notably, farmers rebelled after Monsanto priced its new bioengineered corn seed at too high a premium. The problem was compounded when those seeds didn't produce the yields during the 2010 harvest season that the company had promised.

Blowback from its customer base forced Monsanto to cut prices, and to revise the aggressive growth goals it had targeted for the next few years. The company's earnings for fiscal 2010 were cut nearly in half, and its stock lost 20% over the course of those volatile 12 months.

For the fiscal first quarter ended Nov. 30, Monsanto's bottom line came to $6 million, or a penny per share. Excluding the costs of restructuring, Monsanto said it would have earned 2 cents per share, matching analysts' estimates, according to a survey of the sell-side by Thomson Reuters.

Total sales grew by 7.8% year-over-year to $1.8 billion, while seed sales increased by 13% from the same period of fiscal 2010.

The company reiterated its forecasts for fiscal 2011 of an earnings range between $2.72 and $2.82. That would mark at least a 13% growth from its profit in 2010.

Midday Thursday, Monsanto shares were trading at $71.24, up 3%, after earlier rising as high as $72.65. Volume was heavy at nearly 9 million shares, compared with average daily turnover of 6.3 million.

Monsanto has also faced heightened criticism from several different directions. The U.S. Department of Justice continues to investigate price manipulation in the seed business, though Monsanto hasn't been named in the probe. Meanwhile, sales of the company's Roundup weedkiller continued to decline amid competition from generic products, and stinging environmental criticism continued to dog the company. Monsanto's business model has been to profit by selling bioengineered seeds that are resistant to its own Roundup chemical.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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