Monsanto (NYSE:MON) detractors may be growing in number the world over, but none of it is hurting the company, or its investors. After Wells Fargo upgraded its price target on the stock following the company's impressive first-quarter performance, it's JPMorgan Chase's turn to go bullish on Monsanto now.
Impressed by the company's good second-quarter numbers, JPMorgan upgraded Monsanto stock to "overweight" and upped its price target to $125 a share. That sounds good, but given the growth catalysts, I find JPMorgan's price target still conservative, and I believe that Monsanto could fly higher this year. But for those who want to draw a parallel with arch-rival DuPont (NYSE:DD), beware: The tailwinds may not favor DuPont as much.
Did you notice this?
Investors may have focused on just the numbers -- Monsanto's Q2 revenue and net income climbed 7% and 13% year over year, respectively -- but the real story lies in how the company boosted its top and bottom lines.
Some analysts expected lower corn acreage to hurt Monsanto, since corn is the biggest revenue driver for the company. In a report released Monday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projected soybean acreage to jump 6% to record 81.5 million acres in 2014, even as corn acreage is forecast to slip 4% to 91.7 million acres.
But Monsanto's foothold in the soybean market is as strong as that in corn, thanks to its hugely popular Roundup Ready and Intacta traits. Its soybean seed sales jumped sharply in each of the past two quarters, registering 16% and 21% year-over-year growth in Q1 and Q2, respectively.
This should excite you
What really struck me was the staggering 36% year-over-year jump in Monsanto's Q2 gross profit from soybeans. Now here's why you, as a Monsanto investor, should be excited: Soybeans contributed only 18% to Monsanto's total seed sales during the six months through February, but its gross margin at 65% was at par with corn gross margin. In fact, soybean margin jumped a remarkable nine percentage points during the six-month period even as corn margin improved only two percentage points.
In other words, soybeans are as profitable to Monsanto as corn, which means that the company should be able to churn greater profits even if corn seeds slow down, as they did during the past two quarters. That's great news for investors, especially since soybeans will remain the theme for 2014.
Geared for a strong second half
If Monsanto's Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans are driving sales in the U.S., its Intacta trait is ready to take the other key market, Latin America, by storm. The company's second-quarter earnings call brought to light some amazing facts about Intacta, which suggest how big the opportunity really is.
- During the very first season of launch last year, Intacta RR2 PRO covered an astounding 3 million acres in Brazil, making it Monsanto's largest-ever soybean trait launch.
- More than 13,000 farmers opted for Intacta RR2 PRO in Brazil. Comparatively, just about 1,000 farmers participated during the trial program last year.
- Monsanto hit the market with 35 varieties of the Intacta trait. That's double the number of varieties it rolled out for the Roundup Ready 2 Yield in the U.S. four years back.
- Intacta RR2 PRO is delivering as projected during the trials, yielding an advantage of four bushels per acre against Monsanto's first-generation Roundup Ready soybeans.
- Monsanto will ramp up Intacta faster than any other soybean trait so far. It is already developing the second and third generation of the trait and is on track to commercially launch it in Argentina next year.
Monsanto projects its sales from soybeans to grow a massive $1 billion over the next five years, backed by Intacta, Roundup Ready 2 Yield, and the Roundup Ready 2 Xtend (pending approval) platforms. Cross-licensing agreements with competitors should play a big role in the company's growth.
Monsanto appears unbeatable
DuPont Pioneer started offering Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans this year and will offer Roundup Ready 2 Xtend from 2015. DuPont will pay $200 million annually beginning this year, with Monsanto booking the first installment in Q2. Additionally, DuPont will pay a minimum annual royalty of $950 million beginning in 2018. Likewise, Syngenta (NYSE: SYT) also offers the Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans in return for royalty payments.
Only Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) could emerge a threat if its controversial herbicide-tolerant Enlist E3 soybeans hit the launch pad. Enlist E3 is glyphosate tolerant, which is a direct dig at Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup. Small wonder, then, that Dow is expecting significant market share gains once Enlist E3 is out.
But Dow's dreams could still be years away. As of now, given that Monsanto's Roundup trait covers more than 90% of the soybean acres in the U.S., and the company already has 85% of the Brazilian soybean market under its belt, no other company can come even close to competing.
Monsanto advanced a record number of 29 products last year, ensuring that it remains a leader in the global seed business. The company's full-year earnings guidance of $5.00 and $5.20 a share represents at least a good 10% upside over 2013.
What's more, Monsanto is ready to return "significantly more than the free cash" it generates this year to shareholders as dividends and share buybacks. That's a double boon for investors, provided the stock continues to move up. I don't see any reason it shouldn't.