Cargill reports difficult year; profits down 19 percent

  • Article by: MIKE HUGHLETT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 8, 2014 - 6:14 AM

Despite a turnaround in its beef business, Cargill was affected by troubles in its energy trading unit and sluggish demand.

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Cargill's fiscal fourth quarter profit fell 12%, ending a year of financial declines for the agribusiness company.

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Cargill Inc.’s annual profit dropped as the agribusiness colossus coped with disruptions in its core grain business and economic chaos in Venezuela, an important market.

Minnetonka-based Cargill, one of the world’s largest privately held firms, posted a fiscal 2014 profit of $1.87 billion, down 19 percent from 2013 — the low end of its own performance spectrum since 2009. Still, there were bright spots in Cargill’s global meat business and its vast animal feed operations.

“Though we look back on a year in which overall earnings fell short of expectations, we realized stronger operating results in several businesses including a turnaround in our global beef operations,” Cargill CEO David MacLennan said in a statement Thursday.

“We also made good progress on moves designed to sharpen efficiency and support profitable growth in fiscal 2015 and beyond,” he said.

Cargill’s efficiency drive in recent months has included outsourcing some of its information technology services to India-based Tata Consultancy Services, effectively cutting 600 Cargill IT jobs globally. The Tata outsourcing will cause 169 layoffs at Cargill’s offices in Hopkins, according to a July 2 filing with the state.

Cargill is a major Minnesota employer with nearly 6,000 employees here, many in the Twin Cities.

The company has also begun a multiyear “shared services” approach to its businesses, another efficiency measure. For instance, instead of having accounting and human resources dedicated to a particular business unit, those services will be shared among several business units.

It’s too early to tell what sort of impact this strategy will have on Cargill employment, said Lisa Clemens, a company spokeswoman. But it does mean that some support activities will be “centered into fewer locations,” she said.

Cargill’s fourth-quarter profits trended in the same direction as full-year earnings: They were down 12 percent to $424 million. Revenue in the fourth quarter rose 2 percent to $36.2 billion. Revenue for all of fiscal 2014 was $134.9 billion, down 1 percent from a year earlier.

Cargill’s fiscal year featured a significant charge to account for a currency devaluation in Venezuela, a move many multinational companies have been forced to make in recent months.

Cargill’s animal nutrition and protein business, which makes up 16 percent of the firm’s five-year cumulative earnings, posted a solid fourth quarter and fiscal 2014. It houses global animal feed and meat-processing operations, and benefited from, among other things, a strong poultry business in Central America, Europe and Thailand.

As for Cargill’s beef business, its Australian operations were particularly strong in 2014, Chief Financial Officer Marcel Smits told the Star Tribune. In the United States, meanwhile, Cargill’s closing of a major beef processing plant in Plainview, Texas, has allowed it to increase capacity utilization at its other plants — without losing volume and market share.

“The economics start working for you,” Smits said.

Grain origination and processing, which accounts for 40 percent of Cargill’s five-year cumulative earnings, saw moderate decreases in earnings for both the fourth quarter and year. The decline reflected in part on China’s rejection of some U.S. corn exports.

Also, Cargill’s U.S. farm business saw limited grain handling and storage opportunities due to 2013’s drought, while railcar shortages led to higher costs. But this year’s bumper corn, soybean and wheat crops should boost business, Smits said. “Given the size of the crop, we are confident we will get more revenue out of handling grain.”

Cargill’s second-biggest business, food ingredients and applications, saw earnings decrease for the quarter and year after four consecutive years of record performance. That business, which accounts for 37 percent of Cargill’s five-year cumulative earnings, includes everything from corn sweeteners to brewers’ malt to chocolate and cocoa.

One issue that has hurt Cargill in its sweeteners business is the sluggish state of the U.S. carbonated beverage industry, Smit said. Cargill is a major supplier of high fructose corn syrup.

Cargill’s industrial and financial services business also had quarterly and annual profit drops chiefly because of troubles in its energy trading unit.

  • related content

  • MacLennan, new Cargill CEO who takes the reigns of the company Dec. 1. Wednesday, November 13, 2013. ] GLEN STUBBE * gstubbe@startribune.com ORG XMIT: MIN1311141315391073

  • Cargill’s profitS* since 2009

    2014 $1.87 billion

    2013 $2.31 billion

    2012 $1.80 billion

    2011 $2.69 billion

    2010 $1.99 billion

    2009 $1.95 billion

    * Net earnings from continuing operations

    Source: Cargill Inc.

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