Monsanto Expects Growth From Flagship Herbicide This Year -- Update

By Jacob Bunge Features Dow Jones Newswires

Monsanto Co. anticipates reaping bigger profits this year from its flagship weed killer.

Continue Reading Below

The maker of Roundup herbicide said that higher generic prices for the product's main chemical, glyphosate, would boost Monsanto's business over the coming year as the company works to close its planned sale to Bayer AG.

Glyphosate is the world's most widely used herbicide, and underlies much of Monsanto's franchise in crop seeds. Monsanto sells corn, soybean and cotton seeds genetically engineered to withstand glyphosate, which have come to dominate U.S. farm fields. The St. Louis company also sells the spray itself.

The division that sells glyphosate represents about 11% of Monsanto's profit. Executives on Thursday projected growth in the business this year as Chinese chemical companies, among the largest suppliers of generic glyphosate, implement new government-mandated environmental controls.

"They've been talking about it for years, but they're actually starting to do it now," said Hugh Grant, Monsanto's chief executive, on a conference call discussing the company's quarterly results.

Relocating Chinese glyphosate production to industrial sites and adding new pollution containment systems has driven generic prices for the chemical higher, allowing Monsanto to raise its own price for Roundup, executives said.

Continue Reading Below

The chemical came under attack in 2015 after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a World Health Organization agency, classified glyphosate as likely having the potential to cause cancer in humans. That finding, harshly criticized by Monsanto and farm groups, prompted lawsuits and calls for regulators to re-examine its use.

Monsanto has scored some recent victories in its defense of glyphosate. The European Union in late November approved the use of glyphosate for another five years after a two-year dispute among member nations, some of which voted against extending the license. Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans, corroborating earlier findings.

The company is still fighting a California state requirement that glyphosate manufacturers label the herbicide as a potential carcinogen. Monsanto is also defending against lawsuits from farmers and other plaintiffs, alleging they got cancer from Roundup exposure and that the company hid that risk.

The European Union, which last year raised "serious doubts" about Monsanto's planned $57 billion sale to German chemical conglomerate Bayer, expects to rule on the merger by March 5. Monsanto expects the deal to close "in the early part of 2018," Mr. Grant said.

Monsanto didn't provide specific profit guidance for the year in light of its pending deal with Bayer. The company said new U.S. tax legislation could give it a tax rate in 2019 significantly lower than the 30% expectation it has set for the current year.

Monsanto on Thursday reported a fiscal first-quarter profit of $169 million, or 38 cents a share, up from $29 million, or 7 cents per share, a year earlier. Revenue edged 0.3% higher to $2.66 billion. Analysts had forecast earnings of 42 cents on $2.77 billion in revenue.

Monsanto shares were 54 cents higher at $118 in midday trading.

--Imani Moise contributed to this article.

Write to Jacob Bunge at jacob.bunge@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 04, 2018 13:48 ET (18:48 GMT)