Here's How Monsanto is Planting the Seeds of Future Profits

Monsanto's corn and soybean businesses are expanding across the world, which will set it up for a very profitable future.

Bob Ciura
Bob Ciura
Apr 4, 2014 at 10:05AM
Energy, Materials, and Utilities

Monsanto (NYSE:MON), the biggest seed company in the world, is thriving right now, and it has corn and soybeans to thank for it. Those two segments comprise the vast majority of its business thanks to an aggressive investment strategy in these areas, and Monsanto's about to reap what it has sown.

Monsanto's timing is perfect, since the underlying economics of the agriculture industry are extremely favorable due to booming global populations and an unprecedented demand for food in emerging markets. For these reasons and more, the company has a bright future.

The key takeaways from Monsanto's earnings
Monsanto's recently released second-quarter earnings report showed great results. Total sales increased nearly 7% versus the same quarter the previous year. This was led by the company's corn and soybeans segment, which together represent nearly three-quarters of its total sales. This followed solid results in its first quarter as well, when Monsanto reported revenue and earnings-per-share growth of 7% and 8%, respectively.

Not only did Monsanto increase sales in the most recent quarter, but it's also expanding its margins. As its business expands, Monsanto is realizing economies of scale that are contributing to profits. Gross profit as a percentage of net sales widened by three points in the second quarter, from 56% to 59%.

Unfortunately, not all agriculture companies are thriving. Fertilizer producer Agrium (NYSE:AGU) warned investors its current-quarter earnings per share would be only slightly positive. That's due entirely to the late planting season this year. This is going to have an adverse effect on the timing of Agrium's wholesale and retail earnings.

Likewise, fellow fertilizer producer PotashCorp (NYSE:POT) is still grappling with the breakup of a major European potash partnership last year. Its earnings suffered significantly last year, and management doesn't foresee business conditions reversing any time soon. Collapsing prices for its major nutrients resulted in full-year profits dropping 14% last year. These same conditions are expected to last throughout 2014, which is why PotashCorp expects earnings to fall another 21% this year.

As a result, it's clear Monsanto is leading the pack in the race to dominate the agriculture industry. To illustrate, its soybean sales set a quarterly record. Plainly stated, the company's corn and soybean seeds are seeing high demand that should last for the foreseeable future, particularly in emerging markets.

Emerging markets fuel the future
Monsanto's got a bright future ahead, thanks in part to strong tailwinds behind the global agriculture industry. Soaring global populations and rising standards of living mean millions of people are about to enter the middle class. This will result in rising demand for food, and increasing pressure to increase crop yields.

Not surprisingly, management sees 2014 shaping up to be a great year. The company confirmed its full-year earnings target. Management expects at least $5.10 per share in profits at the midpoint of its guidance range. That would represent nearly 12% growth over the $4.56 in EPS it generated last year.

Add it all up, and it's plain to see why Monsanto management is extremely confident. The company sees demand for corn and soybeans growing along with global populations (and incomes) for many years.

Monsanto has a great deal of momentum working in its favor, driven by the extremely positive underlying economics of the agriculture industry. Business conditions remain strong, particularly in the emerging markets. Under-developed nations are about to experience rising standards of living due to their strong rates of economic growth. These underpinnings will combine to propel Monsanto's sales and profits for many years ahead.