Bunge announced the retirement of Alberto Weisser, its chief
executive, but overshadowed plaudits to his "tremendous contribution" during
his 14-year reign by unveiling its biggest quarterly loss as a listed company.
Bunge shares plunged 8.9% to $72.28 in New York, in afternoon deals, wiping more than $1bn from the group's stockmarket value.
The US-based grain trading giant said that Mr Weisser, who
retires as chief executive on June 1, but will remain as executive chairman
until the end of the year, had guided the group "through one of its most
significant and successful eras in its nearly 200-year history".
Since he took the helm in January 1999, Bunge had grown "from
a regional operation to a global player", and undertaken a stockmarket
flotation which had given its shareholders an average total return on their
investment of 16.4% a year.
"Most importantly, however, Alberto helped instil the
culture and approach that form the foundation of the company, and developed the
talented team that is responsible for its success," Patrick Lupo, the Bunge
deputy chairman, said.
Mr Weisser will be succeeded by Soren Schroder, who since
joining the group in 2000 has risen to become chief executive of its North
Deep into the red
However, the plaudits for the outgoing boss came as Bunge
revealed an after-tax loss of $610m for the October-to-December period, the
worst performance in the company's history as a listed group, according to
records kept by Reuters, and indeed one of the few quarters in which it has
fallen into the red.
The loss reflected $672m in one-time charges, including a
writedown of $339m on the value of its sugar operations, which have failed,
yet, to fulfil hopes at the time Bunge began ramping up in the sector in late
The unit slipped back into an operating loss, of $9m, in the
latest quarter, from a $51m profit a year before.
Bunge also took a $266m hit on deferred tax allowances, relating
to the sale of its Brazilian fertilizer business, and smaller knocks from
writing off some of the debt owed to it by Brazilian farmers.
But even excluding the one-off charges, Bunge's profitably
declined, thanks in part to missteps in its hedging strategy, and despite an
8.6% rise to $17.0bn in revenues for the quarter.
A drop of 17.4% to $362m in gross profit at its core
agribusiness division reflected "risk management strategies that were not as
profitable as expected", besides the drop in US grain exports evident in weak
American corn shipment data.
The fall into the red in sugar was also blamed in part on "risk
management strategies that were less effective in the quarter", exposing the
division to ethanol and sugar prices down some 20% year on year.
The group also reported lower profits in milling, where
weaker corn and rice processing results offset increased profits from the wheat
unit, and in fertilizer, leaving the edible oils division the only one to
report a rise in profits, fuelled by "higher packaged oil margins in Brazil and
The group's fourth quarter was "weaker than expected", Mr
'Better times ahead'
However, Bunge forecast better times ahead in 2013, saying
it was well placed to exploit the prospect of strong crops in South America,
and the stresses these will place on the region's creaking infrastructure.
"In these environments, the value of our services and
network of elevators, processing plants and port terminals increases, as we are
able to provide market access for farmers and deliver the right products to
customers when and where they are needed," Mr Weisser said.
In sugar, successive years of cane plantings "should allow
us to operate our mills at capacity in 2013", of 21m tonnes a year, for the
first time, he added.
Drew Burke, the Bunge finance director, forecast a "much
improved year in 2013".