With another fiscal year concluded, it's time to check out Archer Daniels Midland's (NYSE: ADM ) latest volley of results.
The agricultural processing powerhouse turned in a very strong year; the reported numbers don't really do it justice. After backing out both years' gains on asset sales, and adjusting for non-cash inventory charges and other muddling items, full-year earnings soared 30%, or 32% on a per-share basis.
The fourth quarter was also strong on this adjusted basis, with an 18% improvement over last year. The oilseeds business (read: soybeans) was strong, particularly in the realm of crushing and refining. The segment results only look weak because last year's number included gains on some Asian investments. Corn processing earnings also improved a healthy 14% -- impressive, given the very tough year for ethanol.
Speaking of ethanol, management made a few interesting comments on its conference call regarding the market for the much-debated fuel additive. For what it's worth, ADM management stated their optimism that Texas' request for a waiver on the federal ethanol mandate would not be granted. But even if the super-sized state, whose request is backed by companies like Kraft Foods (NYSE: KFT ) , PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP ) , and margin-tight Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN ) , is granted a waiver, Archer still foresees strong demand. The blending economics are just that attractive, with ethanol providing cheap octane for gasoline. Archer actually cited blending in excess of the mandate.
Elsewhere on the ethanol front, Archer is plugging away on its bio-crude joint venture with ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) , but it had nothing specific to report. Also, despite local media reports about the company's recent Brazilian foray, ADM had nothing to say about that, either. This ethanol development's worth watching closely, since everyone from Petrobras (NYSE: PBR ) to BP (NYSE: BP ) is competing in this arena.
Finally, no matter what happens with the current U.S. tariff on Brazilian ethanol imports, ADM points out that the latter country has no additional export capacity. Until Petrobras and other local players build out those pipelines and terminals, there's no threat of an import flood wreaking havoc on domestic producers' already strained margins. This buys ADM time to structure its operations in anticipation of any longer-term shift toward Brazilian biofuels.