January 20, 2003, Issue #217
Monitoring Corporate Agribusiness
From a Public Interest Perspective

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JULIANNE JOHNSTON, AG ONLINE: Cargill has reported $319 million in earnings from continuing operations for the 2003 second quarter ended November 30, up 25% from $256 million in the same period a year ago. Additional earnings of $2 million were realized from nonrecurring items. Including the one-time items, Cargill earned $321 million in the second quarter.

Earnings from continuing operations for the first six months of fiscal 2003 were $664 million, an increase of 25% from $533 million in the prior year's first half. Additional earnings of $256 million realized from nonrecurring items brought the company's net income for the first half to $920 million.

"Cargill delivered solid operating earnings in the second quarter, an outgrowth of our multiyear strategy to focus on customers, innovation and performance," said Warren Staley, chairman and chief executive officer.

"Today, we are doing more, especially with respect to new products, supply chain management and risk management services, to help our food and agricultural customers to succeed. We've improved our ability to acquire companies with good strategic fit and integrate them into our operations. Our team has done an excellent job managing risk in weak economies and in more volatile commodity markets. And we've continued to increase efficiency and hold expenses in check."

Staley said all of these actions, taken over the past few years, strengthened Cargill's sales and profitability, and brought greater consistency to its operating performance in the first half.

The majority of Cargill's food ingredient businesses around the world delivered better results than a year ago, including many of its units operating under still challenging conditions in Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela and Ivory Coast.

The company's global grain, oilseeds, sugar and cotton network performed well, as did its animal nutrition and beef processing businesses.

Cargill's financial businesses posted a steady first half. And in the industrial segment, its phosphate fertilizer and steel businesses both benefited as those industries began to recover from cyclic lows.

Cargill completed several acquisitions in the second quarter that advance its strategy to be a premier provider of customer solutions in food and agriculture. "We were pleased to welcome the addition of Peter's Chocolate, a leading supplier of premium chocolates to the retail confectionery industry in North America," said Staley. "We are retaining the historic Peter's brand, known for superior flavors, colors and textures, and are combining its production with our Wilbur Chocolate subsidiary based in Lititz, Pennsylvania."

Also in the second quarter, Cargill purchased leading Swiss animal nutrition company Provimi Kliba, and Farmland Hydro, a Florida-based phosphate fertilizer producer. In a joint venture with Australian grain handler GrainCorp, it purchased the flour mixing and milling business of Goodman Fielder, now named Allied Mills.


ERIC PALMER, KANSAS CITY STAR: Farmland Industries reported [January 14] that it lost $417 million in the first quarter of fiscal 2003, more than its losses during all of fiscal 2002.

The gigantic loss was the result of Farmland writing down the value of its fertilizer business and petroleum refinery by $424 million. Farmland, which filed for bankruptcy protection May 31, expects to sell those assets at prices far less than it had been showing on its books.

Bob Terry, Farmland chief executive, said he hoped the size of the write-down would not obscure the fact that the farmer-owned cooperative's ongoing operations had an encouraging quarter.

Led by earnings in its meat businesses, the Kansas City firm reported earnings from operations of $16.5 million for the quarter ending November 30. That was an increase from the $3.2 million that Farmland reported in the same quarter a year ago.

"We made improvements in cash flow, in expense control and profitability. We paid down our debt by $70 million," Terry said. "I'm sorry there is a risk that will get obscured by the timing of the reporting of the impairment."

The earnings report was released on the same day as a hearing in its bankruptcy case, in which Farmland sought another extension to file the details of its reorganization plan. The co-op had been slated to file those details today.

Lawyers said that if Farmland and its banks could agree on an amendment to its loan agreement, the company would ask the court to give it until March 31 to file those details. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Jerry Venters gave Farmland until Jan. 31 to work out the agreement.

Farmland expects to hold a sale of its fertilizer assets by early February, according to Laurence Frazen, Farmland's lead bankruptcy lawyer. That would put Farmland in a much better position to lay out its plan of paying off creditors, Frazen said.

A subsidiary of Koch Industries of Wichita, Koch Nitrogen, has expressed an interest in buying Farmland's fertilizer plants, though Farmland dismissed its initial offer of $180 million as a "lowball bid." Terra Industries of Sioux City, Iowa, also has been mentioned in court hearings as a potential bidder for the fertilizer business.

In its financial filing Tuesday, Farmland said it had written down the book value of its fertilizer business by about $276 million. It wrote down the value of its petroleum refinery by about $148 million. Terry said that because Farmland expected to sell those businesses, it was required to go ahead and write down their book value.

Farmland would have preferred to write down those values last fiscal year, when it was writing down some of its other assets, Terry said. Farmland reported a $346.7 million loss for the year that ended August 31. Accounting rules prevented Farmland from doing that, Terry said, while requiring it to write them down this quarter.

Farmland booked a $10.7 million operating loss from its fertilizer operations, but that was a significant improvement from the $42 million loss its fertilizer business reported in the first quarter of last year. Depressed fertilizer sales last year contributed to a liquidity crisis that led Farmland to file for bankruptcy protection.

Farmland's best financial results in the first quarter came from its prized beef and pork businesses. Its beef partnership, Farmland National Beef, contributed $11.9 million to Farmland's earnings before taxes. Farmland National Beef is operated outside Farmland Industries' other businesses and is not a part of its bankruptcy proceedings. It earned $11.3 million in the same quarter last year.

The pork processing business, which makes Farmland bacon and ham, earned $11.25 million before taxes. That compared with earnings of $10 million in the same quarter a year ago. While he intends to sell most of Farmland's other assets to pay off debts, Terry has indicated Farmland wants to reorganize the company around its pork business.

At least one company, however, hopes to convince creditors that it would be in their best financial interest to have Farmland sell its meat businesses. Smithfield Foods of Smithfield, Virginia. the country's largest pork processing company, has told its shareholders it will try to buy those   operations.

Just as Farmland was filing for bankruptcy last May, Smithfield Foods showed up at Farmland's door with an offer to buy its meat businesses. Farmland rebuffed the offer.

On Tuesday, Smithfield complained in court filings that Farmland was trying to slam the door on Smithfield's latest effort to present an offer. The filing was the first time Smithfield had acknowledged in bankruptcy court that it was after Farmland's meat business.

Smithfield has been buying up IOUs from Farmland creditors. By becoming a creditor, Smithfield will be entitled to a place at the table when the cooperative seeks creditor approval for its plan to emerge from bankruptcy. The more debt it holds, ostensibly, the bigger the place that must be made at the table for Smithfield.

But in a legal maneuver that Farmland said was designed to protect tax write-offs, the co-op asked the court to limit to $5 million the amount of debt any outsider could buy. Smithfield was contesting that limit, but at the bankruptcy hearing Tuesday, lawyers for Farmland and Smithfield said the two were negotiating a compromise that should result in Smithfield dropping its objection.


ASSOCIATED PRESS: Pilgrim's Pride Corp., the country's second-largest poultry producer, saw fiscal first-quarter net income plunge 79% and sales dip 4.4 percent following the largest meat recall in U.S. history. Rising feed costs and lower prices for dark-meat chicken also hurt the company's bottom line.

After the market closed [January 14}, Pilgrim's Pride reported net income of $2.8
million, or seven cents a share, for the quarter ended December 28, compared with net income of $13 million, or 32 cents a share, a year earlier.

The latest results include a gain of 22 cents per share, net of tax, from the federal government's avian-influenza relief plan for turkey producers, as well as a two cent per-share gain from a vitamin-lawsuit settlement. The company had filed the suit.

One analyst surveyed by Thomson First Call had expected a loss, excluding items, of 17 cents a share. Sales fell to $627.4 million from $656 million a year earlier.

In October, a strain of listeria bacteria that caused at least seven deaths was linked to the company's Wampler Foods turkey-processing plant in Franconia, Pennsylvania. according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pilgrim's Pride halted production at the plant and recalled 27 million pounds of fresh, frozen and deli chicken and turkey meat in the largest meat recall in U.S. history. The recall hurt the company's net sales by about $30 million during the latest quarter, it said.

In [January 15] morning trading, shares of Pittsburg, Texas-based Pilgrim's Pride dropped 11 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $8.06, on the New York Stock Exchange.


REUTERS: The Archer Daniels Midland Company said [January 13] that it would double its soybean crush capacity at its largest South American plant, in the soy-rich Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.

The company, which has its headquarters in Decatur, Illinois, said it would raise capacity to keep up with the region's growing soy production.

"We've already started upgrading crushing capacity to 2,000 tons of soybeans per day," said Matthew Jansen, president of ADM Brazil. "The extra capacity will initially go for export." The expansion is expected to be completed by mid-2004, but would create few new jobs.

"With this new project we can increase capacity with much less money than it would take to build a new plant," Mr. Jansen said.

Archer Daniels currently has six plants in Brazil, which are crushing 3,000 metric tons of soybeans a day. Its revenue in Brazil is estimated at about $1.2 billion a year.

The plant, in Rondonopolis, is set in the country's No. 1 soy- producing state, Mato Grosso, where the current soy harvest is officially seen reaching up to 12.6 million metric tons.


MILES WEISS, BLOOMBERG NEWS: ConAgra Foods Inc. lent the buyer of its Greeley-based cattle-feeding business the entire purchase price of almost $300 million, leaving the third-largest U.S. food company with continued risk in an industry troubled by excess supply.

Omaha-based ConAgra sold a majority stake last year in its fresh beef and pork operations --- including feedlots and slaughterhouses --- to a buyout group led by Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst Inc., an investment group that includes Vail-based entrepreneur George Gillett. The total transaction of $1.4 billion included the sale of ConAgra's cattle-feeding business for almost $300 million.

ConAgra said it lent Hicks, Muse the $300 million to buy the cattle-feeding business, according to a filing [January 10] with the Securities and Exchange Commission. That means ConAgra remains vulnerable to ups and downs in the cattle-feeding industry, which experienced steep losses last year.

"It suggests ConAgra couldn't find any other real buyers that were willing to pay a fair price or assume all of the liabilities and risks," said Tom Burnett, president of Merger Insight, an affiliate of Wall Street Access that provides institutional research on mergers and acquisitions. "This was the best they could do."

The financing arrangement means that ConAgra must continue to list the assets and liabilities of the cattle-feeding operations on its balance sheet, the company said. If the assets decline in value, or Hicks, Muse is unable to repay the loan, ConAgra's financial results could suffer.

ConAgra spokesman Chris Kircher said the risks are slim because Hicks, Muse is required to refinance or repay the loan within two years, which will allow ConAgra to remove the assets and liabilities from its balance sheet.

"While we still have some participation in the cattle-feed business due to financing, it's important to point out that we have substantially reduced our participation in the fresh beef and pork business as a whole," Kircher said.

Because of the financing arrangement, ConAgra's "other assets" rose to $1.23 billion at the end of last November from $433 million at Aug. 25, while "other non-current liabilities" rose to $1.05 billion from $997 million, SEC filings showed.

A key reason why ConAgra sold its overall beef and pork businesses was to cut the company's financial risk in fresh meat, which analysts consider less profitable than the company's branded foods, such as Bumble Bee tuna and Healthy Choice frozen dinners.

Analysts and investors have urged ConAgra for years to divest its fresh meat division.

In discussing the transaction last September, ConAgra noted in a press release that the sale of the beef and pork business "removed beef and pork operating profits from the company's earning base."

While ConAgra retains a 45% stake in the joint venture, known as Swift & Co., the company is now reporting the results from these operations on a separate line of its income statement rather than in overall operating income.

Cattle feeders lost money in 2002 as a record amount of beef produced last year in the U.S. --- about 27 billion pounds --- outstripped demand and depressed prices while drought conditions pushed up prices for feed corn. That may help explain why ConAgra agreed to finance the sale of its cattle-feeding business.

ConAgra shares, which have risen 12% over the past 12 months, rose 46 cents to  $26.16 Thursday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.


CAROL EMERT, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: E. & J. Gallo Winery of Modesto, [California] will be eclipsed soon as the world's biggest wine company with the $1.4 billion acquisition of Australia's BRL Hardy by Constellation Brands of Fairport, New York.

The two companies sold $1.7 billion worth of wine last year. The combination, announced [January 17] and expected to become final in April, will mean more competition for California winemakers from red-hot Australian brands, which have already supplanted France as the No. 2 source of wine imports to the United States. Italy remains No. 1.

"The big challenge for California is that Australia basically over-delivers in quality at the same price point," said Robert Nicholson, a wine industry consultant in Healdsburg. That's because property values are relatively low in Australia, which has the land mass of the United States and the population of Texas.

Officials from the Constellation, the former Canandaigua Wine Co., and BRL Hardy, Australia's largest wine producer, revealed global aspirations in a conference call Friday. "There isn't a Coca-Cola or a Microsoft or a Nestle in our industry," said BRL Hardy managing director Steve Millar. "We certainly intend to be that."

The combined company, which also markets beer and spirits, generated $3.2 billion in annual sales in 2002, wine accounting for $1.7 billion of that. By comparison, 2002 wine sales are estimated at $1.4 billion for Gallo, which is privately held and does not release financial data. Gallo did not respond to a request for comment.

Gallo and Constellation, which is the second-largest U.S. wine company until the merger is consummated, are "head to head, in direct competition in this market and in the U.K.," said Nicholson of International Wine Associates.

In 2001, Constellation had a 16% of the U.S. wine market compared with Gallo's 22% said Frank Walters, research director for M. Shanken Communications in New York, publisher of Wine Spectator. But the competition isn't confined to Gallo. "As Australian wines grow, they'll take market share from both imports and domestic wines," said Walters.

Australia contributed about ten million of the U.S. wine market's 240 million cases in 2002, and imports from Down Under are growing 35% annually, Nicholson said. About 80% of the wine consumed domestically is grown in California.

The new Constellation aspires to be a global powerhouse in "New World wines" from the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa. A key strategy is to market more Australian wines in the United States, particularly in the $7-to-$12 price range, officials said Friday.

The big domestic brands in that price range include Gallo's Turning Leaf, Kendall-Jackson, Fetzer and Clos du Bois.

An existing joint venture between Constellation and BRL Hardy to market Australian wines in the United States is small, with about $120 million in annual sales. But the company, Pacific West Partners, is growing 38% a year.

Even with the current grape glut, California's domestic wine sales continue to grow -- but not as fast as Australian and other imports. Australian Shiraz, a spicy red wine, is the fastest growing varietal import in the United States after Italian Pinot Grigio, said Walters.

Constellation's wine brands range from jug wines to premium bottlings and include Almaden, Arbor Mist, Estancia, Ravenswood, Simi and Talus. The company also markets spirits and imported beers, such as Corona, in the United States and runs a wholesaling operation in the United Kingdom.

BRL Hardy has a small presence in the United States, but is the top exporter to the heavy-drinking United Kingdom market with brands such as Hardys Stamp of Australia, Hardys Nottage Hill and Banrock Station.

"I think strategically this is a very good deal," said Bryan Spillane, a stock analyst with Banc of America Securities. "This gives Constellation more exposure, a broader portfolio and some higher value lines."

Constellation stock edged up 70 cents [January 17] to $25.70. Constellation chief executive Richard Sands "still has to prove he can make this work," said Spillane. "There is always integration risk."

Industry watchers generally praised the merger, but were skeptical that Constellation --- or any other company --- can become the "Coca-Cola" of wine.

"The reason people love wine and find wine fascinating is because of its very differentiation," said Nicholson. "I think rather than having one or two major wine corporations, we'll have five or six, and this is the beginning of that really significant consolidation."

Another big beverage industry merger, the $1.5 billion purchase of Beringer in 2000 by Fosters Brewing Group of Australia, created a combined $755 million in wine sales, Nicholson said.

Constellation is offering to buy $1.1 billion of BRL Hardy shares with a combination of Constellation stock and cash. It is also assuming $325 million in debt. The deal must be approved by shareholders and pass muster with antitrust regulators before it can close. Executives said they do not anticipate regulatory problems.


Comparing the world's top vintners:

*  Headquarters: Fairport, New York
*  Forecast 2002 wine sales: $1.7 billion
*  2001 case production: 60 million
*  Important brands: Almaden, Arbor Mist, Estancia, Ravenswood, Simi, Talus

*  Headquarters: Modesto, California
*  Estimated 2002 wine sales: $1.4 billion
*  2001 case production: 63 million
*  Important brands: Carlo Rossi, Ernest & Julio Gallo, Gossamer Bay, Paul Masson, Rancho Zabaco, Turning Leaf


RYAN KIM, SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: Children in the Peninsula town of Belmont soon may find themselves attending Ralston Middle School Sponsored by Purina, eating lunch in Safeway Cafeteria and running laps around Nike Field.

That's because the financial picture is so bleak in the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District that school trustees are giving serious thought to letting corporations slather their names on just about everything in sight --- for a price.

It's a radical --- and unprecedented --- idea that school officials said could bring as much as $1 million to a district that would lose one-fifth of its $20 million annual budget under Gov. Gray Davis' proposed spending plan.

"In times of economic difficulty, the community, the district and the parents are looking for creative ways to increase funding," said school board President Colleen You. "The school district needs to think outside the box." Or at least look to Jack in the Box. No other school district in the nation has gone to such lengths to fill its coffers. But some have considered less drastic measures.

The Berkeley Unified School district considered and rejected a $100,000 deal with Pepsi Co. in 1998 to allow the company exclusive rights to campus vending machines. The proposal also would have allowed Pepsi to erect a high-tech scoreboard bearing its logo at the high school football field.

And it wasn't that long ago that buses bearing the Old Navy logo ferried kids to school in San Francisco and San Mateo County.

The possibility that media mogul Rupert Murdoch could slap his name on Benjamin Fox Middle School remains at least a few months away, but the debate has already started.

Advocates said selling naming rights can be a terrific way to bring money to strapped districts. Critics argue it teaches kids that everything is for sale if the wad of cash is thick enough.

School trustees launched a subcommittee Thursday that will outline potential guidelines for corporate sponsorships of schools, classrooms, libraries and gyms.

The plan could be voted on by late February or early March. District administrators argue they need the cash to make up for a shrinking budget, which could lose $4 million under Davis' proposed budget.

"We should certainly share in filling in the state's budget deficit, and we understand that," said Superintendent Anne E. Campbell. "But to take 20% of our budget away absolutely guts our school district."

School trustees rejected the idea of granting a corporation full naming rights to a school, so there won't be an Oracle Elementary. Instead, they favor incorporating a corporation's name into existing names, much like the college football Fiesta Bowl became the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

"Because the community already identifies with the school names, the board is more interested in partnership or sponsorship ideas," said You.

Although Professor Alex Molnar, director of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University, can understand why a district might consider such a move, he thinks it's a bad idea. "I don't question the desperation, I question the value of the response," he said. "This is the not the way to address the district's fiscal crisis. The long-term effect is it undermines quality of the education by making their schools beholden to special interests."

Proponents of the idea said they can live with any ill effects if it means keeping the district afloat.

"The students will be exposed to corporate advertising all their life, so why not do it a little now to help fund their education," said Jeff Adams of School Force, the district's fund-raising foundation.

Adams, who conceived of the idea, said the district would strike deals only with companies possessing images that would not undermine its educational mission. In other words, Budweiser and Marlboro need not apply.


MARK PATTISON, CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE: The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is one of127 U.S. rural advocacy organizations urging changes in federal farm policy to give family farmers a better chance to compete against growing and consolidating agribusiness firms.

"Our country's farmers and ranchers are asking for nothing more than a fair market and a competitive share of the $900 billion that consumers insert into the food and agriculture economy annually," said the January 14 letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.

Among actions sought are changes in the contract system for farmers who raise poultry and livestock under contract to meat processors, and a ban on processors raising their own poultry and livestock.

Holy Cross Brother David Andrews, executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, told Catholic News Service that these and other proposals for change in national farm policy were not covered in last year's farm bill. The contracts between farmers and processors are themselves particularly burdensome, Brother Andrews said.

One change in provisions he said is needed is lifting the confidentiality clauses in such contracts.

"You can't talk to your wife about what's in the contract, you can't talk to your friends, you can't talk to your neighbors," Brother Andrews told CNS . . .. Nearby farmers who also raise poultry and livestock for processors cannot talk over contract provisions with each other. The letter to Veneman said that farmers should be able to form associations and bargain collectively with processors if they so wish.

Another needed change is lifting the insistence on binding arbitration to settle contract disputes, he said.

Brother Andrews said the pacts were "contracts of adhesion," meaning they were one-sided in favor of the processor. He added that the Supreme Court last year ruled illegal such contracts between auto manufacturers and their dealers, and he believes there is sentiment in the new Congress to ban such contracts in farming.

"The importance of increasing market competition and fairness for America's farmers and ranchers became clear and compelling during last year's farm bill debate," said the letter from the rural life organizations. "While the conferees did not act on most of the substantive provisions, the leadership of both the House and Senate committees pledged to hold hearings with a view towards action."

On the first day of the Senate's new term this year, two bills intended to aid family farmers were introduced. One would end the use of binding arbitration in livestock and poultry contract disputes. The other would ban processor ownership of livestock.

"Robert Peterson, former CEO of IBP (a beef processing firm), has admitted in the past that packer-owned livestock has a 'significant impact' on the market," the letter said. "Packers inherently prefer their own livestock over those of other market players.

"Undue preferences are prohibited by the P&S (Packers and Stockyards) Act. Packers are strategically scheduling cattle (raising) to manipulate the market in their favor and so as to pay less to producers," the letter added.

The NCRLC also had a verbal skirmish with former Rep. Tony Hall, now U.S. ambassador to the United Nations' food agencies and a longtime congressional leader in the anti-hunger movement.

In December in Brussels, Belgium, Hall told reporters that African leaders who refuse to accept food aid because of a fear of genetically modified products "are in fact starving people to death (and) should be held responsible .... for the highest crimes against humanity in the highest courts in the world." Zambia has refused genetically modified food, and Zimbabwe has in principle accepted food aid but has mired it in red tape, delaying the shipments.

The rural life conference and other critics of genetically modified food signed a letter rebuking Hall for his comments.

"You criticize African leaders for protecting their people, while our government sends food aid containing StarLink, a variety of genetically engineered corn that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not approved for human consumption in this country," the letter said. "Perhaps the United States should be tried for this crime against humanity."

                                    EDITOR'S NOTE

Preparing to post this year-end 217th edition of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER it is
gratifying to know that over 1100 people throughout the world are currently receiving it on a
regular basis and judging from comments received feel it is a valuable source of information.
However, it is also quite troubling to realize that less than 4.5% of that readership has ever
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To that small cadre of contributors this editor can only express his profound gratitude and
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From the outset it was never the purpose of THE AGRIBUSINESS EXAMINER to
charge a subscription fee for the original intention of this newsletter was to get it into as many
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perspective, just as was the establishing of a web site
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