November 5, 2008 / 12:21 PM / in 10 years

UPDATE 3-Agrium's profit surges, widens outlook range

* Revenue $3.11 billion vs $989 million

* Widens 2nd-half outlook to $3.30-$4 a share

* Stock up 4 pct at C$47.85 (In U.S. dollars. Adds details)

TORONTO, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Agrium Inc AGU.TO reported a higher third-quarter profit that topped analyst expectations, and it widened its outlook range for the second half of the year due to turmoil in global economic and commodity markets.

The world’s third-largest nitrogen producer and the top U.S. retailer of crop supplies also said it expects a strong spring fertilizer application season, but not before it runs into a weak fourth quarter as farmers defer applications of crop nutrients until early in the new year.

However, Agrium said that crop fundamentals were more positive than prices indicate and that food demand would not be hurt by an economic downturn.

“While there are clear signs that there will be economic slowing, our fundamental view is that this is not expected to have a significant effect on global food demand,” Mike Wilson, Agrium’s president and chief executive, said on a conference call.

“We anticipate strong growth in fertilizer consumption, seed sales and crop protection applications over the medium to long term in order to support the need for increased food production.”

The company also provided a wider than usual outlook range for the second half of the year, to between $3.30 and $4 per share, as it expects a decline in global commodity grain, nutrient and energy prices, delays in North American crop harvests and fall field work, and tighter credit for some of its customers.

Analysts have trimmed their expectations for the company over the past few weeks as prices for crops and demand for fertilizers have declined.

But once a charge of 73 cents a share related to natural gas and power hedging losses is added back into the estimates, the company is expected to be near the $4.41 forecast by analysts.

“We believe 2009 is going to be a great year...,” said Terry Ortslan, at TSO and Associates in Montreal. “This sector is quite insulated from other sectors which have got many more variables. As a result, Agrium and those other companies will do very well in 2009 because they are in the need category of the business not the want category.”

Earlier on Wednesday Agrium said it earned $367 million, or $2.31 a share, up from $51 million, or 38 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue jumped to $3.11 billion from $989 million.

Analysts on average had expected earnings of $1.93 a share before items and revenue of $2.22 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

The shares were up 4 percent at C$47.85 on the Toronto Stock Exchange by early afternoon.

The company said it benefited from surging grain markets, which pushed up demand and prices for the fertilizers it sells to farmers and wholesale markets.

It was also helped by its $2.65 billion purchase of UAP Holding Corp, the largest independent distributor of agricultural and noncrop products in the United States and Canada, which it completed earlier this year. ($1=$1.16 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Anderson; editing by Rob Wilson)

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