Cargill Inc. on Wednesday posted a fourfold increase in quarterly profit, benefiting from strong commodities trading results and improvement in its soybean and beef processing businesses.
The Minnetonka-based agribusiness giant recorded its second consecutive healthy quarter, after one of its worst fiscal years in a decade. Cargill's fiscal second quarter for 2013 looked particularly strong, partly because the same quarter a year ago was so weak.
Earnings for the quarter ended Nov. 30 were $409 million, compared with $100 million the same time a year ago. Second-quarter revenue at one of the world's largest privately held companies rose 6 percent to $35.2 billion.
"Cargill posted a solid second quarter, with earnings balanced and diversified across the breadth of the company," Cargill CEO Greg Page said in a statement.
Page credited steps the company has taken over the last year to become more customer driven and to instill more cost discipline and urgency in the company's work culture.
Cargill, which makes everything from artificial sweeteners to road salt, saw earnings rise in four of its five primary business segments during the quarter.
The company's origination and processing unit, which includes grain, sugar and cotton trading, was the largest contributor to Cargill's second-quarter profit. A year earlier, Cargill had been hurt by markets being tossed and turned by Europe's financial crisis.
But that turmoil has abated. "The markets have come back to being supply-and-demand driven, so we can better use our powers of analysis and risk management," said Lisa Clemens, a Cargill spokeswoman.
The origination and processing segment also got a boost from improved margins in Cargill's soybean-crushing business, which had been suffering from industry overcapacity.
Cargill's food ingredients unit, which covers everything from chocolate making to meat processing, was its only major business to experience a second-quarter decline in profit, albeit a slight one.
Weakness in the company's ethanol business, which is included in the food ingredients segment, played a major role. But the global meat business, which spans turkeys to chickens to pigs, posted a profit compared to a loss a year ago.
That's partly due to an improvement in the U.S. beef processing business, where profit margins were "sharply negative" a year ago, Cargill said.
Profit in Cargill's agricultural services division was up, partly due to better results in its animal feed business. The company's financial services and risk management segment posted a profit after a second-quarter loss a year ago, helped by calmer European debt markets.
In Cargill's industrial segment, earnings rose, too, though road salt production volume lagged.
On the capital investment front, Cargill noted that it has $2.4 billion of large projects under construction in 13 countries.
Staff writer John Ewoldt contributed to this report. Mike Hughlett • 612-673-7003