Cargill suffered an 88% slump in earnings to their lowest since 2001, hurt by volatile commodity markets and, in particular, by a weak result in sugar, in which the group replaced its head trader last month.
The agribusiness giant, one of the world's largest private companies, said it was "actively working to reduce costs" after revealing earnings of $100m in the September-to-November period, the weakest quarterly result since at least 2005.
The result, which Cargill chairman and chief executive Greg Page admitted was "significantly below expectations", reflected in part the "challenges" of reading financial markets which have moved largely in response to political factors.
"Commodity and financial markets were driven more by political uncertainties than by underlying supply and demand fundamentals," Mr Page said.
The period was marked by political efforts, which continue, to tackle the eurozone debt crisis, besides deliberations from countries such as India and Ukraine on crop exports.
However, Mr Page also highlighted a "poor" performance in sugar, the business in which Jonathan Drake was last month replaced as head.
Mr Drake, who joined Cargill as a graduate trainee in 1985, is regarded as the force behind Cargill's growth to top rank in sugar trading, ahead of the likes of France's Louis Dreyfus and Sucres et Denrées, besides ED&F Man, Glencore and Wilmar.
Cargill has declined to comment on the reasons behind Mr Drake's departure, which came days after the group revealed it was to cut 2,000 staff, blaming the "continue weak global economy".
The company has also unveiled performance improvement measures including a $20m plan to revamp its US soybean crushing operations, besides, in December, an unusual disposal, of its global flavours business, to Irish-based Kerry.
Cargill's 2011 had been noted for a series of acquisitions, including the $2.1bn purchase of France-based feed group Provimi.
Indeed, the extent of cash used up in funding the takeover spree contributed to a warning last month by Fitch that it may downgrade Cargill's credit rating.
Weak in meat
Cargill added that its meat business too had contributed to the profits drop in the latest quarter, hurt by high animal costs.
Beef packer margins have been particularly weak, falling in mid-December to a record low of minus $112 a head, according to broker US Commodities.
"Our meat businesses on a combined basis experienced one of their weakest quarters," Mr Page said.
However, he added that the group was "confident" that measures to cut costs and simplify working practices would "better position us for the current economic environment".
"Cargill has been though difficult cycles before, made changes and emerged the stronger for it," he said.