Record results in soybean crushing, and a boost to grain merchandising volumes from strong crops, more than offset a drop in ethanol profits to drive a bigger rise in Archer Daniels Midland earnings than investors had expected.
The agricultural trading house – with Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus one of the ABCD group of ag giants – reported earnings up 84% at $493m for the January-to-March quarter, despite a drop of 15.4% to $17.51bn in revenues.
Underlying earnings per share, at $0.77, beat market expectations of a $0.71-per-share result.
The improvement in earnings defied a sharply lower operating profit in corn processing, down 39% at $113m, led by a 73% slump to $42m in ADM's ethanol profits.
"Supply/demand imbalances challenged industry ethanol margins most of the quarter," ADM said, adding that its own production of the biofuel had been cut "amid weaker industry margins".
However, it added that "conditions and margins have been improving since late March".
And in the January-to-March period, the group achieved high profits in both its other major divisions, agricultural services and oilseed processing.
"The ADM team demonstrated their ability to leverage the strengths of our diversified business model," said Juan Luciano, the group's chief executive.
In agricultural services, operating profits rose by 37% to $194m, lifted by extra crop volumes after last year's record US corn and soybean harvests.
ADM's combined global merchandising platform - united after soft results in some segments, notably the German-based Topefer operation – "saw increased volumes and margins", ADM said.
Operating profits in oilseeds soared 58% to $469m, with a doubling in the result in processing itself.
"Soybean crushing c for the quarter were the strongest ever, with record volumes in Europe and North America and strong margins globally, driven by strong US and global meal demand," the group said.
Mr Luciano said: "The oilseeds team capitalised on favourable market conditions and delivered outstanding results."
ADM also highlighted that in South America, "improved farmer selling helped support a significant improvement in origination results" – tallying with comments from Bunge last week of some signs of Argentine growers proving more willing to sell.
Argentine farmers have been hoarding crop as a dollar-denominated hedge against a falling peso.
ADM shares stood 0.4% lower at $50.14 in morning deals in New York.