Agrium sees strong fourth-quarter profit growth

A brief summary of Agrium Inc's fourth quarter earnings.

By Alison Martin

Agrium Inc said fourth-quarter earnings almost tripled, thanks to impressive operating improvement in its wholesale business unit.

In the latest quarter the Canadian fertilizer producer reported net income of $200 million, or $1.45 per diluted share, a substantial increase over its year-ago net of $70 million, or 46 cents per diluted share.

The profit surge came even though sales fell by 11 percent to $2.41 billion from $2.71 billion. The company was able to cut its expenses from $625 million to $576 million, which helped offset the slump in sales.

Excluding unusual factors, the company reported its adjusted earnings as $1.52 per share – a big increase compared with last year’s adjusted 60 cents, and matching Wall Street expectations.

CEO Chuck Magro said the key differentiator for the company was “our integrated strategy, which helped provide stability in our earnings.”

Agrium Inc’s EPS by Quarter

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Agrium is most profitable during Q2 during planting season. Source: Agrium Inc. (Alison Martin/MEDILL)

Agrium’s wholesale business unit – which produces, markets and distributes fertilizers made of nitrogen, phosphate and potash – reduced production costs and sold a higher volume of its nutrients, which kept the company strong despite a weak macroeconomic environment, officials said.

Profits at the wholesale unit depend on how much farmers plant each year. Commodity grain prices fell in 2015, and high crop yields that year meant companies that bought grains and oilseeds still had much of their purchases still in inventory.

Still, Agrium expects growers to continue planting high acreage this year, even surpassing last year’s record high, which means the company will continue to sell more seeds, crop production products and nutrients.

In New York Stock Exchange trading Tuesday, Agrium shares closed down 32 cents, or less than one percent, at $83.69.

For the full year, Agrium reported a strong increase in its net earnings to $988 million , or $6.98 per diluted share, from $798 million, or $5.51 per diluted share in 2014. In the year just ended, sales dropped to $14.8 billion from $16.04 billion in the prior year.

Agrium expects full year 2016 EPS in a range between $5.50 and $7.00, assuming farmers continue to plant high numbers of acreage. That forecast is at the low end of current analyst predictions of $7.01 a share.

“We are assuming normal spring and fall application seasons, recognizing there is always a risk that inclement weather could affect the timing and duration of each season,” the company said in its press release. “Our earnings per share guidance assumes some recovery from current nitrogen prices during the key application seasons.”

Photo at the top: A brief summary of Agrium Inc’s fourth quarter earnings. (Alison Martin/MEDILL)