Brent Stirton/Getty ImagesBy MATTHEW PERRONE
WASHINGTON — Monsanto reported better-than-expected first quarter earnings Wednesday on higher sales of the company’s biotech soybean seeds and its signature herbicide Roundup.
Its earnings rose 8 percent, and its shares rose more than 2 percent in morning trading.
The St. Louis-based company said it earned $368 million, or 69 cents a share in the three months ended Nov. 30. That compares to earnings of $339 million, or 63 cents a share, in last year’s quarter.
Revenue climbed 7 percent to $3.1 billion, driven by sales of its Intacta soybean seeds to farmers in Argentina and Brazil. The biotech engineered soybean, which is the company’s first product designed for a non-U.S. market, repels caterpillars and withstands Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup. Soybean sales grew 16 percent to $267 million for the quarter.
The company’s performance beat the average estimate of analysts polled by FactSet. The consensus estimate was for earnings of 64 cents a share on sales of $3.069 billion in revenue for the quarter.
Monsanto (MON) shares were up $2.69, or 2.4 percent, to $115.50 in midday trading.
Monsanto reiterated previous expectations of earnings between $5 and $5.20 a share for fiscal 2014. Analysts expected earnings of $5.25 for the year.
Monsanto, which has dominated the bioengineered-seed business for more than a decade, expects earnings growth in the “mid-to-high teens” for fiscal 2014, based largely on international seed sales in Latin America, Asia and other emerging markets.
The company’s biotech seeds have genetically engineered traits that the company says benefit farmers enough that they come out ahead, despite the seeds’ higher cost.
Total seed and seed license revenue declined to $1.68 billion from $1.76 billion, due to lower sales of the company’s best-selling product, biotech corn seeds. Lower seed sales were offset by higher sales for the company’s herbicide division, which increased $283 million to $1.47 billion.
While the vast majority of Monsanto’s business comes from genetically enhanced seeds and herbicide, the company is making investments in computer-based farming tools.
On Wednesday the company announced a new agreement with U.S agricultural distributor WinField to explore collaborations on agriculture-based information technology. Monsanto recently acquired The Climate Corporation, a Silicon Valley startup that uses weather forecasting and data analysis to help farmers increase their yield each season. WinField markets its own so-called “precision farming” system that uses satellite imagery to help farmers plot out their planting strategy.
Monsanto executives have touted the Climate Corp. purchase as part of a broader strategy to combine Monsanto’s seed biotechnology with the emerging field of computer-assisted farming.
Analysts say it could be years before Monsanto’s investments in the space become profitable.
Monsanto reported an 18 percent increase in research and development spending in its first quarter to $409 million.