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Beef boost drives Cargill profits higher, despite crop market malaise

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Cargill underlined the difficulty of profiting in crop trading at time when heavy supplies are dampening volatility, as the ag giant revealed had, again, relied on its protein and feed division for driving growth.

The US-based group, one of the world's largest privately held companies, unveiled a 14.2% rise to $973m in earnings for the June-to-August period, the first quarter of its fiscal year, on revenues up 0.7% at $27.3bn.

"We're off to a strong start to our new fiscal year," said David MacLennan, the Cargill chairman and chief executive, with the group also announcing a 7.4% increase to $827m in underlying operating profits.

'Brisk consumer demand'

However, growth reflected in particular, as it did in the group's last financial year, strength in the animal nutrition and protein arm, which reported underlying operating profits "up significantly".

In North America, Cargill flagged a boost from "brisk consumer demand for beef, strong exports, and more abundant cattle supplies".

US beef packers' margins exceeded $500 per head of cattle in late June, according to Steiner Consulting, the highest level since at least 2013, and up by roughly one-third year on year as the strong demand factors supported beef prices, at a time when the more generous cattle supplies kept a lid on costs.

In feed, the group reported gains in additives and premixes markets, although this was offset by some weakness in aqua feeds in Europe and swine sector operations in Vietnam.

'Depressed market volatility'

Cargill's origination and processing division, meanwhile, reported a drop in profits, amid a "challenging environment" fostered by a succession of strong global harvests.

The group, while reporting a "positive" trading result, said that "although global demand for grain and oilseeds continues to grow, rising production and building global stocks during the last four crop cycles has depressed market volatility and commodity prices".

The division was "working to increase productivity in its supply chain", Cargill said.

The comments represent the latest in a series by a major agricultural trading house flagging the difficulty of reaping trading gains in less volatile times – despite the extra volumes of crops to deal with.

'Cultured proteins'

Cargill also underlined investments in new markets and technology, including its purchase of a stake in California-based Memphis Meats, which is developing ways of growing meat from animal cells.

"Over time, cultured proteins could potentially complement conventionally produced meats as part of the equation to sustainably nourish the future," Cargill said.

The group also flagged its partnership with Austria-based Delacon, which makes so-called phytogenic feed additives, which aim to harness to plant compounds to promote the likes of bacterial resistance in animals, and reduced emissions of methane.

By Mike Verdin

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