Why Monsanto Earnings Will Not Please Investors

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Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) reported fiscal third-quarter 2015 results before markets opened Wednesday morning. The fertilizer and seed maker reported adjusted diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $2.39 on revenue of $4.58 billion. In the same period a year ago, Monsanto reported EPS of $1.62 on revenue of $4.25 billion. Third-quarter results also compare to the Thomson Reuters consensus estimates for EPS of $2.07 and $4.61 billion in revenue.

Monsanto reaffirmed its fiscal year 2015 EPS guidance “at the low end of the range” of $5.75 to $6.00. Full-year EPS also continues to be expected at the low end of a range of $5.80 to $6.05 per share. The company reaffirmed its previous forecasts for free cash flow at the low end of its previously stated range of $2.0 billion to $2.2 billion and net cash from operating activities in the range of $3.0 billion to $3.3 billion.

The company now expects fourth-quarter results to be “break-even.” The current consensus EPS estimate for the fourth quarter is $0.31, compared with a loss of $0.27 per share a year ago. The consensus estimate for full-year EPS is $5.77 and revenues are estimated at $15.58 billion.

The company’s CEO said:

The challenges facing the world’s food supply continue to evolve. The growing population, along with our volatile and changing climate, place ever-increasing burdens on sustainable global food production. Equipping farmers with the right set of innovations that will help solve tomorrow’s food challenges today requires more than a new company — it requires a new vision and approach.

The CEO also called Monsanto’s proposed $45 billion acquisition of Syngenta A.G. (NYSE: SYT) “an exciting logical next step for our business, offering the opportunity to accelerate innovation and support a more diverse group of farmers around the world.” Syngenta is less enthusiastic, having rejected the offer again on Tuesday. Still, the potential merger remains top-of-mind for investors who, as long as Monsanto does not completely tank the stock price, probably will not suffer too much.

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Monsanto’s shares traded down more than 2% just after Wednesday’s opening bell, at $110, in a 52-week range of $105.76 to $128.79. Thomson Reuters had a consensus analyst price target of around $136.00 before the earnings report.