Monsanto Plants Seeds for Future Growth

By Dan Caplinger Markets Fool.com

Monsanto (NYSE: MON) has been a controversial company for a long time, as many people disapprove of the company's advances in agricultural technology over the years. Yet as demand for food rises, Monsanto has seen increased interest in many of its products, and coming into Wednesday's fiscal second-quarter report, investors of the seed and agricultural productivity giant expected to see solid growth. The company's results were generally favorable, and Monsanto continues to move forward in its efforts to grow even with its pending merger with Bayer, scheduled to close by the end of 2017,still in the works.

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Let's look more closely at Monsanto to see how it did and what it sees ahead.

Image source: Monsanto.

Winter can't stop Monsanto

Monsanto's fiscal second-quarter results were encouraging for investors. Revenue was up 12%, to $5.07 billion, which was quite a bit higher than the $4.73 billion that most analysts following the stock had expected to see. Similarly, Monsanto posted bottom-line success, with net income climbing almost 30%, to $1.37 billion. The resulting earnings of $3.09 per share was far better than the consensus forecast for $2.79 in per-share profit, and accounting for extraordinary items added another $0.10 per share to Monsanto's adjusted earnings.

Monsanto saw strength in both of its key businesses. The company has increasingly relied on its seeds and genomics segment, which brings in more than four-fifths of its overall sales, and Monsanto managed to boost the business' top line by almost 10%. Solid gains in the corn and soybean areas were the biggest contributors to positive performance for the company, and cotton seed sales nearly tripled from year-earlier levels. Segment profit was up 14%, again with soybeans and corn leading the way higher. Monsanto pointed to strength in the U.S., Europe, and Brazil in helping to promote growth.

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However, the more interesting news came from the agricultural productivity segment, which bounced back from recent challenges. Sales jumped by nearly a quarter from year-ago levels, and the unit managed to boost its gross profit slightly. Year-over-year declines in certain herbicide prices weighed on performance, but even though Monsanto sees those difficulties lasting into the first half of 2017, a subsequent recovery should spur longer-term growth.

CEO Hugh Grant was happy at how well Monsanto did under difficult conditions. "We are delighted to have delivered such an excellent first half and strong second quarter," Grant said, "in the face of what is still a tough macro economy for agriculture." The CEO also pointed to its ongoing efforts at spurring innovation as a way to drive long-term growth and compete against its rivals.

What's next for Monsanto?

Monsanto is still optimistic about the prospects for its future, even as investors prepare for its merger with Bayer. Restructuring and transformation efforts have produced extensive savings, and Monsanto believes that those moves should save the company about $200 million in operating expenses and costs of goods sold in 2017. That should increase to an annual $500 million savings rate by fiscal 2018 and onward.

Monsanto's guidance for the fiscal third quarter and the full 2017 fiscal year continued to improve. Monsanto sees GAAP earnings at the high end of its previous range of $3.95 to $4.44 per share, and the company thinks that adjusted earnings will also be in the upper portion of its $4.50 to $4.90 per share guidance. Gross profit for seeds and genomics should climb mid-single-digit percentages. The agricultural productivity segment could see some pressure on sales, pointing toward the lower end of its $850 million to $950 million sales range. However, strong cash flow should help put Monsanto in a favorable position going forward.

Monsanto investors seemed comfortable with the report, and the stock climbed almost 2% in morning trading following the announcement. With the stock price getting closer to the merger agreement's $128 per share price, shareholders in Monsanto seem to be getting more comfortable with the prospects for the combination to take place -- or for Monsanto to thrive even if something happens to kill the deal before year-end.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.