Monsanto to Cut 12% of Workforce as It Forecasts Profit Drop

Monsanto Co. Asgrow soybeans in Manlius, Illinois.

Monsanto Co. Asgrow soybeans in Manlius, Illinois.

Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
  • Restructuring to save as much as $300 million, shed 2,600 jobs
  • Announces $3 billion accelerated share repurchase plan

Monsanto Co. said it will eliminate 2,600 jobs as part of a cost-savings plan, joining a growing list of major corporations struggling to contain the damage from the decline in world commodities prices.

The St. Louis-based agricultural giant announced the reductions -- the equivalent of 12 percent of its workforce -- as it reported a loss of 19 cents a share in the fiscal fourth quarter and warned profit would remain weak through 2016.

Like DuPont Co. and Glencore Plc, Monsanto, the world’s largest seed maker, is taking steps to combat the effects of a commodity slump that reduced farmer incomes for two straight years. Moves to trim expenses include re-prioritizing some research and development efforts and exiting the sugar-cane business to save as much as $300 million a year. Still, the company said it plans to meet its goal of doubling per-share earnings in five years from 2014.

“It seems surprising that they are still confident of reaching the 2019 goal given the environment they are facing for 2016,” Chris Shaw, a New York-based analyst at Monness Crespi Hardt & Co. who rates the shares neutral, said in a telephone interview.

Shares Drop

Monsanto fell 2 cents to $88.06 in New York. The shares have dropped 26 percent this year.

Profit will fall to $5.10 to $5.60 a share in the 12 months that began Sept. 1, excluding restructuring costs, from $5.73 a year earlier, Monsanto said Wednesday in a statement. That compares with $6.22, the average of 23 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. The last time that profit dropped was in 2010.

On Monday, DuPont, Monsanto’s largest competitor, cut its forecast for 2015 earnings, citing weak agriculture markets in Brazil and the dollar’s strength against the real. DuPont Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ellen Kullman abruptly stepped down. Also on Wednesday, Platform Specialty Products Corp., another U.S. rival, cut its earnings forecast.

Monsanto said it will accelerate $3 billion of share repurchases under a program that was suspended during its failed $46 billion bid for Syngenta AG.

The cost savings, buybacks and improved agriculture and currency markets as well as sales of a new genetically modified soybean called Intacta Pro should allow a return to per-share earnings growth exceeding 20 percent a year by fiscal 2017, the company said. Additional restructuring plans being developed could reduce expenses by an additional $100 million, Monsanto said.

Fourth-quarter profit also missed expectations. The loss in the three months ended Aug. 31, a seasonally weak period dependent on sales in South America, compared with the 3-cent loss estimated on average by 19 analysts.

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