Nufarm shares hit seven year high

29 Mar, 2017 04:19 PM

FARM chemical maker Nufarm's shares have hit seven-year price highs, near the $9.80 mark in the past week, after a 2016 sales bounce in Australasia, North America, Asia and Latin America.

Despite lean global grain market conditions weighing on crop protection product demand, and stiff competition, a revamped Nufarm Limited has lifted revenue by 15 per cent, reporting a $20 million net profit in the six months to January 31.

Last year it posted a $91m statutory loss, partly because of one-off restructuring costs totalling almost $103m.

Melbourne-based Nufarm makes farm chemicals in Australia, France, Austria, Britain, the Middle East and the US.

It also owns the Nuseed business and spray equipment manufacturer, Croplands.

The company's 15pc drop in European revenue to $151m reflected the weaker global grain market and an "unfavourable" season, although underlying earnings before interest and tax were about $1.7m ahead of the same period last year.

Seed technology division, Nuseed, made big profitability gains after a 21pc sales increase to $50.6m, with canola in Australia, sunflowers in Europe and sorghum and canola in Brazil being notable performers.

Nuseed still reported a $200,000 first half loss, however the result was much improved on the $4.4m loss at the same time in 2016.

Spray gear maker, Croplands, lifted sales by 20pc and was the main contributor to a 2pc rise in Nufarm's "other products" business category, which reported a revenue of $123m for the period.

The Nufarm group's global herbicide, fungicide and insecticide business enjoyed an overall 14pc sales lift and achieved a 28.5pc gross margin lift on the same period in 2015-16.

Australian and New Zealand sales jumped 32pc to $306m after a strong finish by winter crops and record grain production, although underlying earnings actually fell 9pc to $13.3m.

Asian sales lifted nearly 32pc to $71m, North America was up 16pc to $291m and South America up 13pc to $467m.

Managing director Greg Hunt has tipped more earnings growth for the full trading year, assuming normal seasonal conditions prevail in major local and overseas cropping regions.

Although a hot and dry December to February period had scorched a good start to summer cropping prospects in New South Wales and Queensland, good West Australian rain had provided an optimistic outlook for the coming winter crop.

"With the benefit of our cost savings and performance improvement program, together with new product launches and improved customer relationships, I'm confident the business will continue generating profitable growth," Mr Hunt said.

He hopes Nufarm's Australian market share will rebuild from between 25pc and 30pc to around 30pc-plus.

However, he conceded the international crop protection sector would remain "very competitive" as soft commodity prices continued following significant grain volumes harvested in the past year.

Although down slightly to $9.66 early this week, Nufarm's share price peaked at $9.78 late last week - its best performance since February 2010.

Sinking investor confidence sent the price to lows around $3.70 by September 2010, and back down to $4.15 in 2013, shortly after US-based Monsanto and Germany's BASF pulled local distribution deals with Nufarm.

Nufarm had a long-running Roundup production agreement with Monsanto which dissolved as new supply arrangements established from Asia, while BASF decided to re-enter the Australian market, ending contracts with the local manufacturer.

Rationalisation and management restructuring, including closing production sites, have helped Nufarm's share price trend upwards since 2014.

Factories in Perth and Brisbane, Calgary in Canada and Auckland, NZ, were shut and some have since been sold.

The company said the benefits of lower fixed costs and improved production inefficiencies were now being realised.

Nufarm will pay a five cents a share first half dividend in May - 25pc more than last year.

The next six months' results were likely to be stronger according to Mr Hunt as this period was a major chemical selling time in Australia Europe and North America.

The current outlook for the Australian canola season was optimistic and canola markets were attractive compared to wheat, but good March and April rain was needed to support bigger planting areas and drive Nuseed's business prospects.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall

is the national agribusiness writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media


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