Setbacks in sugar, blamed on Brazil's logistical shortfalls, curtailed growth in Bunge earnings to levels below Wall Street expectations, dragging on improved profitability at the core trading and processing division.
The US-based agribusiness giant, one of the big four "ABCD" group of trading houses with Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, said that operating profits at its agribusiness division, its biggest business, more than doubled to $406m in the July-to-September period.
The division's sales rose 20% to $12.0bn, as it tapped its strength in South America to tap the region's booming exports of corn, following a bumper Brazilian safrinha harvest, which has filled some of the gap left by a poor US crop.
"Our grain merchandising operations benefited from the combination of strong export demand and large South American supplies.
Brazil's overall corn export so far in calendar have reached 11.9m tonnes, topping the previous record of 10.9m tonnes with two months to go.
Alberto Weisser, the Bunge chairman and chief executive, said: "Stocks of corn and soybeans are tight, and the world is adjusting typical trade flows."
'Lower than we would normally expect'
However, Mr Weisser acknowledged that the sugar and bioenergy business had operated "below potential", even though a one-off write-off, at a US-based corn ethanol plant, was largely responsible for a widening of $4m to $47m in divisional losses
"Results were lower than we would normally expect for the seasonally-strong third quarter," the group said, blaming the widened loss on "lower sales caused by port congestion" in Brazil where the division's operations are based.
Brazil's ports are suffering a well-documented squeeze on capacity – in part caused by strong corn shipments.
The squeeze has threatened to slow ongoing sowings, by slowing fertilizer imports, besides raising question marks over Brazil's ability to ship the pace of soybeans many buyers are counting on after new supplies come onstream in earnest in March.
"Lower sugar content of cane," which was depressed by the impact of early season rains, was also cited for a drop of 12.1% to $1.52bn in divisional sales.
'There will be some difficulties'
In comments to an investor conference call, Drew Burke, the Bunge finance director, said that Brazil's logistical squeeze mean that it was "going to be difficult on the industry and the country to move all the product" coming onstream from early 2013 harvests.
"Brazil is subject to congestion. There's no doubt there will be some difficulties."
However, Bunge itself was protected somewhat by large elevator capacity, he added.
"We have a pretty good interior network as well as a network at the ports.
"So we not only have the logistics channels that we can rely on to move the product, we also have pretty good storage if we have to hold product for a little while."
Group earnings doubled to $297m, on revenues up13.6% at $43.2bn.
Nonetheless, earnings of $2.08 on a per-share basis fell short of the $2.17 a share analysts had expected.
However, Bunge shares stood 2.8% higher at $70.20 in lunchtime deals in New York.