Monsanto Posts Record Sales, Profit Beats Expectation

Monsanto Co. (MON) on Wednesday said it posted record sales in the first quarter, with higher profits fueled by a 40 percent jump in sales of its seeds and genetic modifications for crops.

"It looks like things are on track here. This seeds and traits business looks pretty good," Greenwich Consultants analyst Michael Judd said. "In the past we wouldn't be surprised if they lost money in this seasonally slow quarter."

The St. Louis-based agricultural products company, which has become an industry leader in genetically altering crops to resist pests and tolerate weed-killing treatments, said it earned 22 cents a share for the first quarter, which ended Nov. 30, above analysts expectations for 20 cents a share.

The gain compares to a net loss of 15 cents a share a year earlier, or a gain of 13 cents a share on an operating basis.

Still, investors showed little enthusiasm for the news as shares were off a few cents at $79.78 on the New York Stock Exchange amid ideas that the stock, which has rallied more than 60 percent in the last year, is at or above full value.

Monsanto said net income totaled $59 million, compared to a loss of $40 million a year earlier. And net sales totaled a record $1.4 billion, up from $1.072 billion a year earlier.

Strong adoption of Monsanto's genetically altered cotton seeds in Australia, combined with stronger-than-expected purchases of Roundup herbicides in the United States, Europe and Argentina, and growth in U.S. sales of the company's genetically altered corn seed were key drivers of the gains, company officials said.

The company also got a boost from its newly acquired Seminis vegetable and fruit seed business with sales of cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers driving $125 million in quarterly sales for that unit.

Sales of Monsanto's soybean seeds and traits declined slightly in the quarter, but the decline was offset by an 18 percent gain in sales of corn seeds and traits. Overall, total sales of seeds and genomics totaled $656 million, up from $468 million a year earlier.

Also Wednesday, Monsanto confirmed that its full-year 2006 EPS guidance will be toward the upper end of its previously announced range of $2.35 to $2.50 a share.

The company said testing of new potential products was moving forward rapidly, including good progress on a drought-tolerant corn and higher-yielding and healthier soybeans.

"This year we tested more pipeline prospects in the field than ever before," Monsanto Chairman Hugh Grant said. "That progress is extremely important for our long-term momentum."