Monsanto's Caution Weighs on Shares (Update 1)

Updated to include information from Monsanto's Chief Financial Officer about the company not raising full-year 2012 guidance.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Monsanto ( MON) lifted its fiscal first-quarter earnings outlook Wednesday but shares of the agriculture products developer fell as the company showed some caution by not boosting its full-year view as well.

Monsanto Chief Financial Officer Pierre Courduroux said the first quarter is a small seasonal one and the company didn't want to make grander assumptions for the whole year based on one small quarter. He also stressed in a presentation that atypical trends in Monsanto's order book are another reason not to raise guidance yet. The agricultural company is seeing more orders from some farmers sooner than usual, which could mean just a shift in purchase time or more sales later in the year.

Citing strength in Brazil and Argentina as well as some "timing" benefits in the United States and Australia, St. Louis-based Monsanto forecast earnings of 15 cents to 20 cents a share for its first quarter ended in November. The company's previous guidance was for earnings of 10 to 15 cents a share in the quarter, and the current average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters is for a profit of 13 cents a share.

Monsanto, whose products include bio-engineered seeds and herbicides, is slated to report its fiscal first-quarter results on Jan. 5. The stock was off 2.3% in afternoon action at $70.67.

Ticonderoga Securities analyst Mark Gulley said it is "very likely" that the St. Louis-based agriculture company will raise its full-year 2012 guidance "down the road" so investors should not get caught up in this point.

Monsanto reiterated expectations for ongoing earnings of $3.34 to $3.44 a share for the full year ending in August, a view that constitutes percentage growth in the mid-teens. Wall Street has set a higher bar for the company with the consensus view sitting at $3.46 a share.

Two other agricultural players who will likely benefit from growth in Brazil and Argentina are Syngenta ( SYT) and Dupont ( DD), Ticonderoga's Gulley said. Dupont will benefit the least of these three from this growth because agriculture only makes up about 20% of the company's earnings, Gulley added.

Gulley has a buy rating on Dupont based on its valuation and good pricing in the Ti-Pure titanium dioxide grades (Tio2) area and he has hold ratings on Syngenta and Monsanto because their valuations are "less interesting."

Morningstar analyst Jeffrey Stafford echoed the sentiment that Dupont, Syngenta and Monsanto should see lifts from their exposure to the Brazilian and Argentinian markets. Because these two markets are "on the lower end of the product adoption curve," growth margins are higher in these markets.

Stafford rates Monsanto as a four-star stock while Dupont and Syngenta both received three stars. Monsanto got a higher rating based in part on its strong research and development pipeline.

Stafford was unsure whether Monsanto would raise its full-year 2012 earnings guidance but said if the first quarter is any indication, 2012 could go in the same direction.

-- Written by Alexandra Zendrian in New York.

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