UPDATE 4-Monsanto slashing 2,600 jobs, buying back shares as sales fall

Wed Oct 7, 2015 6:00pm GMT
 

(Adds background on rivals hurt by agricultural slump)
    By Carey Gillam
    Oct 7 (Reuters) - Monsanto Co, one of the world's
largest seed and agrichemical companies, said on Wednesday that
it was slashing 2,600 jobs and restructuring operations to cut
costs in a slumping commodity market.
    The company, which said it expected low prices for
agricultural products to squeeze results well into 2016, also
reported a much wider quarterly loss and gave an outlook below
many analysts' expectations. 
    The layoffs would affect 11.6 percent of Monsanto's regular
workforce, according to the company. 
    The global restructuring will also include an exit from the
sugar cane business and "streamlining and reprioritizing" some
commercial and research and development work. 
    To try to shore up investor confidence, the company
announced a $3 billion accelerated share repurchase program that
Chairman Hugh Grant said would be completed in the next six
months. Its shares, which fell as much as 4.3 percent early on
Wednesday, were nearly unchanged in afternoon trading. 
    Monsanto said it expected to incur restructuring costs of
$850 million to $900 million. When completed, the moves should
help save as much as $400 million a year. 
    The restructuring, which caps a year when Monsanto's sales
fell more than 5 percent, comes during an agricultural slump and
a currency collapse in the important Brazilian market.
    Swiss rival Syngenta AG, which Monsanto had tried
to acquire over the summer, has said it is trying to bolster its
bottom line by selling a vegetable seed business and undertaking
a $2 billion share repurchase. And DuPont, which operates
agricultural seed seller DuPont Pioneer, has lowered its profit
outlook. 
     Monsanto forecast earnings per share of $5.10 to $5.60 for
its new fiscal year, which began on Sept. 1. That is well below
many analysts' expectations for more than $6.00.
    The company said its losses widened to $1.06 a share in the
fourth quarter ended on Aug. 31 from 31 cents a year earlier. 
    Sales of corn seeds and traits, Monsanto's key products,
fell 5 percent to $598 million in the quarter. And sales at the
company's agricultural productivity unit, which includes Roundup
herbicide, dropped 12 percent to $1.1 billion. 
    Despite the bleak results, Grant said the company's
fundamentals were strong.
    Monsanto will remain focused on achieving growth targets for
its core seeds and traits business and be "disciplined" with its
herbicide business, he said. 
    The company said it would still meet its target of more than
doubling fiscal 2014 earnings per share, excluding special
items, by 2019.
    Strong demand for corn and soybeans remains a key
fundamental for Monsanto, Grant said.
    The company has particularly high hopes for new soybeans,
corn and cotton that can be sprayed with a new combination of
Monsanto's glyphosate-based Roundup and dicamba herbicides. The
combination is aimed at combating widespread weed resistance to
glyphosate. 
    Monsanto still needs final regulatory approvals but said
advance orders for "Roundup Ready Xtend Crop System" soybeans
were on track to sell out by early December, company officials
said. It expects pricing at a $5-to-$10-an-acre premium.
    Monsanto also wants to expand sales of agricultural digital
data products designed to help farmers boost crop yields. It
will soon start field trials in Brazil, officials said. 
    While farmers have shown interest in the new software and
hardware data products offered by Monsanto and several
competitors, they have been reluctant to pay for them.
      At Tuesday's close, the stock had dropped roughly 30
percent from a high set last February, and the company's growth
strategy has under intense investor scrutiny after the failed
Syngenta takeover attempt. 

    
 (Reporting by Carey Gillam in Kansas City, Mo.; Editing by Lisa
Von Ahn)
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