Hurt by corn costs that nearly doubled, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) widely missed analyst estimates in the third quarter but said it sees margins modestly improving ahead.

The Decatur, Ill.-based processor of agricultural commodities such as soybeans, corn and crude vegetable oils posted net earnings of $460 million, or 68 cents a share, up 33% compared with $345 million, or 54 cents a share, in the same quarter last year.

Excluding special items, the company said it earned 58 cents a share, below average analyst estimates polled by Thomson Reuters of 67 cents.

Revenue for the three months ended Sept. 30 was $21.9 billion, up from $16.8 billion a year ago, trumping the Street’s view of $19.17 billion.

Higher operating profits in its agricultural services division, up to $244 million from $132 million last year on strong recovery of exports from the Black Sea region, was partially offset by narrowed earnings in both its oilseeds and corn processing divisions.

Net corn costs more than doubled from the year earlier.

“The first quarter presented a difficult and challenging market environment,” said ADM chief executive Patricia Woertz. “Margin conditions in our global oilseeds segment were generally weak, and net corn costs were high.”

During the quarter, ADM acquired oilseeds facilities in Poland and India and expanded its agricultural services operations to support exports.

The company said it sees the margin environment modestly improving ahead and remains optimistic about the long term. Global supply is adequate for soybeans and wheat but tighter for corn, ADM said.

Demand for crops continues to grow, particularly for protein meal in emerging economies.

U.S. ethanol consumption, meanwhile, remains at “maximum blendable levels,” the company said. ADM is contracting with corn sweetener customers and said it is optimistic for 2012 in terms of both pricing and margins.

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