Less than a month ago, fellow Fool contributor Stephen Simpson looked at Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE:ADM), the world leader in "agriculture processing," and noted that although the stock was soaring, the company wasn't buying its own stock despite the authorization to buy back up to 100 million shares. Good catch!

Yesterday, the company made a presentation to the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) that is available now at Archer's website. While a listener will certainly hear that the company is the beneficiary of the consolidation taking place in the food processing industry, you will also hear that corn syrup prices are not going to rise this year and that there is overcapacity in the ethanol business -- a combination that says 2006 earnings growth will be muted.

Merrill Lynch (NYSE:MER) apparently didn't like what it heard. It downgraded the stock to neutral.

Analysts expect the company to earn $1.55 a share for the fiscal year ending in June. For next year, though, the estimate is just $1.57 -- a 1.3% gain. Agriculture is a cyclical business, even for the grinding and squeezing (processing) business that Archer does.

Before I get a flood of email pointing out that Archer sells for only a low 15 times forward earnings, let me point out that this is a food company -- a low-margin business known for steady growth if you are in the right place at the right time.

Competitor Bunge (NYSE:BG) sells for 12 times trailing earnings, and more broadly diversified ConAgra (NYSE:CAG) sells for 16 times forward earnings. Given the earnings growth ahead of Archer, it makes sense that the stock is down 8% today.

Archer's stock had been on a tear. From its 52-week low of $14.95 in August, the stock reached its 52-week high of $25.18 last week -- a gain of 69%. That's smokin'. But this is a food company with slim 4.5% operating margins. Compare that with the 9.7% operating margins at ConAgra.

Archer's stock clearly got ahead of the fundamentals. In last night's presentation, the company billed itself as "The Steel and Concrete of the Food Chain." While the company is clearly a global leader, it still has a net debt (debt minus cash) of $3.3 billion and a puny 1.4% dividend. In this observer's opinion, even at today's market-discounted price, the stock looks like dead money for at least the next six months.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own stock in any of the companies mentioned. Click here to see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy .