Bunge Ltd. on Tuesday said quarterly profit rose a higher-than-expected 5 percent even as the agribusiness and food company grappled with volatile soybean prices.

Bunge said fourth-quarter net income rose to $105 million from $100 million a year earlier. Earnings per share slipped to 89 cents from 94 cents because of an increase in shares outstanding.

Bunge, whose business lines include marketing grains, fertilizer and food products, said fourth-quarter net sales slipped to $6.2 billion, compared with $6.4 billion a year ago.

Net sales in agribusiness declined to $4.2 billion, down 11 percent from $4.7 billion a year ago. Agribusiness segment operating profit fell 49 percent to $49 million.

Fertilizer segment operation profit rose 60 percent to $109 million from $68 million.

"Agribusiness volumes and operating profit were both below the exceptional levels experienced in the fourth quarter of 2003," said Bunge Chief Executive Alberto Weisser.

He said record soybean prices caused a wave of selling in North and South America in the year-earlier quarter, which combined with strong customer demand to generate solid profit margins.

Soy prices have since dropped significantly, and U.S. farmers have generally been tightfisted with sales.

Bunge said fourth-quarter results included $17 million in impairment and restructuring charges related to its Western European oilseed processing operations.

The company said the fourth quarter of 2003 included $56 million of impairment charges on long-term operating assets in Bunge's Western European oilseed operations.

Source: Yahoo News