Cargill profits quadruple as political fog clears

Cargill, for a second successive quarter, reported a quadrupling in profits, helped by a return in its meat business into the black, and the waning of the political influence on prices which tripped it up last year.

The US-based group, the world's biggest agricultural commodities trader, reported a jump in earnings to $409m in the September-to-November quarter, up from $100m a year before.

Revenues at Cargill, one of the world's largest privately-held groups, which publishes only limited financial information, rose 5.7% to $35.2bn.

Higher margins

The profits leap reflected in part "an improved margin environment in oilseed processing in several regions".

Industry soybean crushing volumes in the US reached among their highest levels in five years in October and December, on National Oilseed Processing Association estimates, supported by healthy profitability.

Furthermore, the group's animal protein segment returned to profit, after falling into the red a year before "when processing margins in the US beef industry were sharply negative".

"Most of the meat businesses benefited from improved volumes or margins in the current period, even though results were tempered by higher raw material or livestock feeding costs," Cargill said.

'Strong trading results'

But the group also flagged an improved crop trading record from last year, after political factors took a lower profile on the market agenda, allowing prices to move to fundamental news, which Cargill found easier to read.

The group revealed "strong global trading and risk management results in more fundamentally driven markets".

The risk management division itself "turned around last year's second-quarter loss, the latter a period when financial markets were stressed by debt turmoil in the US and Europe".

Indeed, a year before, when profits fell to their lowest in more than a decade, Cargill chief executive Greg Page acknowledged the "challenges" of reading financial markets moving largely in response to political factors, such as the eurozone debt crisis.

Ethanol setback

Mr Page termed the latest results "solid", saying earnings were "balanced and diversified across the breadth of the company".

Food ingredients operations bucked the trend, posting earnings "moderately" below year-ago levels.

"The slippage was mostly related to excess capacity in the North American ethanol market and the return of profits in some product lines to more normalised levels," Cargill said.

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