November 3, 2010 / 11:37 AM / 7 years ago

UPDATE 3-Agrium profit climbs, but misses expectations

4 Min Read

* Q3 EPS 37 cents vs 16 cents a year ago

* Q3 Adjusted EPS 70 cents; Vs Wall St consensus of $0.87

* Sees Q4 EPS of $1 to $1.30; Wall St consensus 97 cents (Adds analyst comment, estimates; All figures in U.S. dollars, unless noted)

By Euan Rocha

TORONTO, Nov 3 (Reuters) - Agrium Inc (AGU.TO) said on Wednesday its third-quarter profit more than doubled, as the recent strengthening in grain prices helped boost both demand and pricing for fertilizers.

But quarterly earnings fell well short of Wall Street expectations, sending Agrium's shares down 3.2 percent to $84.45 by mid-morning on the New York Stock Exchange.

Gleacher & Co analyst Edlain Rodriguez said the miss was a little surprising and possibly linked to the timing of price increases that analysts had factored into their forecasts.

"When you look at the guidance for the fourth-quarter, it is much higher than consensus, because the price increases are finally flowing through," said Rodriguez.

The crop nutrient maker and farm products retailer said its quarterly profit rose to $57 million, or 37 cents a share in the quarter that ended Sept. 30. That compared with a year-ago profit of $26 million, or 16 cents a share.

Excluding stock-based compensation expenses and other one-time items, said earnings were $111 million, or 70 cents a share, well short of the consensus view of 87 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

"We expect the improvements in the crop input markets to become even more evident in the fourth quarter," Chief Executive Mike Wilson said in a statement.

Agrium, the largest North American farm products retailer, expects the strength in crop input demand and prices will continue into the spring of 2011.

Net sales at the Calgary-based company rose nearly 10 percent to $2.01 billion.

The global recession and a collapse in grain prices hurt fertilizer demand in 2009, but farmers have begun to restore their soil nutrient levels this year, benefiting Agrium and other suppliers.

Investor interest in the fertilizer sector has also surged following BHP Billiton's (BHP.AX)(BLT.L) $39 billion hostile bid to acquire Potash Corp. The Canadian government rules later on Wednesday whether to approve that bid.

Potash Corp (POT.TO), the world's largest fertilizer producer, said last week that its its third-quarter profit rose 62 percent. The company also announced 2010 and 2011 full-year outlooks that topped market expectations.

Retail Shines

Agrium said gross profit rose 26 percent to $500 million, largely driven by strong results from its retail arm. The company said retail strength was due to higher profit margins on crop nutrient sales and increased sales volumes.

Agrium's retail division has been rapidly growing. In August, it announced that it would acquire Australia's AWB Ltd AWB.AX for A$1.2 billion ($1.2 billion).

The company said it expects fourth-quarter earnings between $1.00 and $1.30 a share, above the Wall Street consensus of 97 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. (Reporting by Euan Rocha; editing by Janet Guttsman)

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