* Syngenta 2009 net profit $1.37 bln vs forecast $1.32 bln
* Plans $200 mln share buyback, total cash return $750 mln
* Sees more positive 2010, volume growth from Q2
* Proposes 6.00 Sfr dividend vs forecast 6.27 Sfr
* Shares rise 1.8 pct
(Adds updated shares, more comment on outlook)
By Sam Cage
ZURICH, Feb 5 (Reuters) - The world’s largest agrochemicals company Syngenta’s SYNN.VX plans to return $750 million to shareholders this year as demand picks up, with a $200 million share buyback and an unchanged dividend.
The Swiss group, which makes products to kill weeds and insects and develops genetically modified seeds, had a tough year as prices for farming products fell, but sounded a more optimistic on 2010 based on rising agricultural demand.
“Improved conditions in emerging markets are contributing to a more positive outlook for 2010 and lead us to expect volume growth starting in the second quarter,” Chief Executive Mike Mack said in a statement on Friday, targeting growth in earnings per share (EPS) for 2010.
Agricultural suppliers such as Syngenta and its U.S.-based rival Monsanto (MON.N), as well as Canadian fertiliser company Potash Corp POT.TO and Germany’s K+S SDFG.DE, have struggled with lower sales as prices for farming products fell.
But the Swiss group’s more optimistic forecast echoes Monsanto, the world’s largest seeds company, which said last month it was on track for good gains this year. [ID:nN06139550]
“The market fundamentals have clearly improved and 2010 should mark a return to profitable growth, although we didn’t get the hoped-for double-digit EPS growth guidance,” said Vontobel analyst Patrick Rafaisz.
Syngenta shares rose 1.8 percent to 277.20 Swiss francs by 0852 GMT, lifted by the prospect of more cash for shareholders and healthier agricultural markets and ahead of a weaker DJ Stoxx European chemicals sector .SX4P.
Syngenta said its full-year net profit edged down 1 percent to $1.37 billion, hit by lower food prices, but just ahead of forecasts.
The stock trades at 13 times forecast 2011 earnings, a discount to Monsanto but at a premium to other European chemicals companies.
Syngenta proposed a 2009 dividend of 6 Swiss francs ($5.66) per share, lower than a forecast 6.27 francs. It had been expected to post net profit of $1.32 billion. [ID:nLDE60S184] (Additional reporting by Andrew Thompson, editing by Will Waterman) ($1=1.060 Swiss Franc)