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We need to give Monsanto (NYSE: MON ) a big high-five for this -- estimate-crushing first-quarter numbers followed by the stock price touching a 52-week high. The seed giant couldn't have gifted investors a better New Year's gift.
This looks like the best time to clear investors' minds of all the pessimism that took root after Monsanto's corn seeds reportedly failed to keep bugs away. Take a look at what keeps me upbeat on the world's largest seed company.
Latin American strength
The Latin American region is proving to be nothing less than a cash cow for Monsanto. Surging demand for corn drove the company's revenue up by a superb 33% from the year-ago quarter to $2.4 billion. This trend was evident in Monsanto's fourth quarter, too.
Interestingly, corn and the developing markets have emerged as two big advantages not just for Monsanto, but also for other industry players. For instance, Syngenta's (NYSE: SYT ) last quarter was marked by strong corn and soybean seeds and herbicide sales primarily in South America. This was a big driving factor behind the company's 16% jump in sales.
A solid top-line growth took Monsanto's net profit to an amazing $126 million from just $9 million a year ago. Yippee!
Monsanto made sure it gave investors enough reasons to cheer beyond just impressive numbers. The company reported significant advancements in 14 of its projects last year, including new seed launches and reaching the advanced phase of testing for its high-yielding corn.
But the biggest development Fools need to watch out for is Monsanto's drought-tolerant corn, which received deregulation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in December. Getting the final regulatory approval means the company can proceed with the on-farm testing of the corn. Monsanto is aiming at a 2013-14 commercial launch for it.
This product in particular should give Monsanto a great headway amid the stiff competition from the likes of DuPont (NYSE: DD ) and Dow Chemical (NYSE: DOW ) . A successful launch will assume greater importance, especially after all the bug concerns surrounding the company in the last few months.
Both DuPont and Dow offer genetically modified seeds like Monsanto and got a good opportunity to push their products when Monsanto was facing the bug problem. So far, DuPont's pest-resistant corn, developed in collaboration with Dow, hasn't faced any issues, unlike Monsanto. Moreover, DuPont has also won approval for two new insect protection products targeted at U.S. corn growers some months back.
Clearly, Monsanto's drought-resistant corn can be a big weapon to tackle this growing competition. Moreover, the fact that its SmartStax products, which offer higher insect protection, got extended registration recently adds to the optimism.
Into the boom
Monsanto is banking big on the Latin American region to boost revenues this year. Pushing products in this market is a smart move to offset any seasonal weakening in U.S. demand. No wonder other players are flocking to the region as well.
DuPont's interest in the region, for instance, became clear when it tried to buy a majority stake in a South African-based seed company. The deal, however, hit a wall last year when regulatory authorities rejected it. Syngenta is also keen on gaining traction in Latin America. After launching its genetically modified corn seeds successfully in Brazil, the company recently received approval to sell them in Argentina.
The good part is Monsanto is also looking at expanding genetically modified corn in Mexico. Note that both Dow and DuPont have also shown interest in similar expansions in Mexico. A bigger footprint in these fast-growing regions should definitely add value to Monsanto's business.
The Foolish bottom line
I always believed that greater focus on research and development would help Monsanto put the bug fiasco behind it. And boy, am I glad the company is doing exactly that!
The bugs aren't scaring me away from this fast-growing company that has also raised its full-year forecast. Also, the fact that the seed business will stay fertile as long as farmers keep growing crops to feed us can't be overlooked.
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