Think of agriculture biotech, and you'll probably think of Monsanto
And why not? Each of those first three has more than $10 billion in market value, whereas Delta & Pine is just a relative pipsqueak at $1 billion. But that doesn't mean the pipsqueak isn't interesting in its own right.
For its fiscal third quarter, this developer of engineered cotton and soybean seed posted decent results. Sales climbed by 10%, operating income by 9%, and net income by 15%. Though sales in China were a bit soft, overall foreign sales increased. Domestic sales, meanwhile, got a boost from increased sales of premium varieties, as well higher overall trait prices.
Now, I know those numbers aren't the stuff that growth investors' dreams are made of, but a look at the cash flow statement will give you reason to smile. Through the first nine months of the fiscal year, operating cash flow has nearly doubled and free cash flow actually has doubled.
With good cash flow, the company has raised its dividend by 25% and authorized a share-buyback plan totaling $50 million. That's in addition to a recently completed Dutch auction tender offer that took out about 2.4 million shares for $27 apiece.
Despite Delta & Pine's prominent place in the global market for genetically engineered cotton seed, few analysts seem to care much. That could spell opportunity, since the company seems to be widely appreciated in its industry. Witness the agreements with the likes of Monsanto, Syngenta, and DuPont
Of course, it's not all that simple. Despite a small soybean business, Delta & Pine is pretty much just a cotton company. Worldwide demand for cotton does look solid, as does the demand for engineered cotton seed, but that sort of one-product exposure is a valid area of concern. What's more, ongoing litigation tied to Monsanto's aborted acquisition of Delta & Pine looks set to drag on for at least another year.
Perhaps another larger seed company will succeed where Monsanto failed in making Delta & Pine its own. Perhaps Delta & Pine will expand beyond cotton and become a more well-rounded player in agribiotech. Or perhaps Delta & Pine will just continue to grow its business, become an even larger player in global cotton, and get a little more respect on the Street.
More takes on agribusiness await:
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned.