March 11, 2009 / 1:12 PM / in 9 years

UPDATE 3-Viterra slips to loss on writedown, shares dip

* Q1 share loss C$0.14, vs profit C$0.20

* C$28.1 mln writedown on fertilizer inventory

* Revenue rises 4.9 pct to C$1.38 billion.

* Shares off 2.7 percent at C$9.05 (Adds analyst comments, updates share price)

By Scott Anderson

TORONTO, March 11 (Reuters) - Agricultural products company Viterra VT.TO slipped to a quarterly loss, due mainly to lower grain margins and a writedown on its fertilizer inventory as farmers delayed applications until later in the spring, it said on Wednesday.

Viterra said it lost C$33 million ($25.8 million), or 14 Canadian cents a share for the its first quarter, ended Jan. 31, compared with a profit of C$41.2 million, or 20 Canadian cents a share for the same period last year.

The company, whose businesses include grain handling, fertilizer and livestock feed services, said the 2009 quarter included a fertilizer inventory writedown of C$28.1 million.

Excluding that writedown, the net loss for the quarter was C$13.6 million, or 6 Canadian cents a share.

Revenue climbed 4.9 percent to C$1.38 billion.

Analysts had expected a profit of 1 Canadian cent a share and revenue of C$1.25 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

“There was no surprise. We knew it was going to be a really bad quarter,” said Robert Winslow, an analyst at Wellington West Capital Markets.

“More importantly, we think though, that farmers are starting to come back to the market in Q2. Spring planting is coming up, so they are going to come back, dip their toe in and buy fertilizer, and we will get back to more normalized earnings for Viterra by the end of this fiscal year,” Winslow said.

The company’s shares, which have slipped 21.6 percent in the past year, were off 2.7 percent at C$9.05.

Viterra, like other fertilizer companies, has grappled with growing inventories as farmers defer applications until later in the spring.

Fertilizer prices soared in the first half of 2008 on peaking demand, tight inventories and record grain prices. Since then, the global credit crunch and the widening recession have weighed on the agricultural sector.

Prices of nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers tumbled toward the end of 2008 as farmers stayed out of the market in hopes that prices would fall ahead of the spring planting season in North America. Brazilian farmers, hurt by tight credit markets, also cut spending on inputs.

But Viterra, which changed its name from Saskatchewan Wheat Pool after its C$1.8 billion takeover of Agricore United in 2007, expects its results to rebound by the third quarter as demand for its agriproducts rebounds.

“It is not unusual to record an operating loss in the first quarter, particularly if fall fertilizer applications do not materialize”, President and Chief Executive Mayo Schmidt said in a release. “Even with the slow start this year, we expect a solid financial year in 2009.”

$1=$1.28 Canadian Reporting by Scott Anderson

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