Even with two hemispheres to work with, the agriculture industry is still fairly cyclical on a yearly basis with Monsanto
Not this year.
Monsanto announced a $0.03 first-quarter loss today compared with $1.00 per share of income a year ago. That's not exactly getting off on the right foot.
The culprit, as has been the case for a couple of quarters: Roundup. The previous cash cow has run out of milk, with sales of the herbicide slipping 63% year over year as generic competition ate into both volume and prices. The latter is evident by the substantial hit to the company's gross margin, down 15 percentage points to 44%.
This is where I'd usually point out that the future of the company -- biotech seeds -- made up for some of the loss. Only it didn't. Both corn and soybean sales fell year over year, and increases in vegetable and cotton seeds couldn't make up the difference. Monsanto expects some of the soybean sales will be shifted into the second quarter as the company got a late start in selling seeds.
But the corn may be a lost cause; farmers aren't planting as much in Brazil and Argentina for a variety of reasons, including decreased commodity prices. That's not good news for other seed makers such as DuPont
I think it's safe to call 2010 a rebuilding year for Monsanto. The company plans to make up for the loss as the fiscal year progresses and reiterated its adjusted earnings guidance of $3.10 to $3.30 per share for the year -- still a far cry from the $4.41 per share last year. Rather than focus on 2010 earnings, long-term investors would be better off focusing on the company's pipeline of new seed products. With 11 products having moved closer to market in the last year, 2011 and 2012 could turn out to be the new beginning that Monsanto needs.