By P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Cargill Inc's fourth-quarter profit more than doubled, it said on Thursday, as global demand for meat and animal feed soared and commodity market volatility eased a squeeze on the company's trading unit.
For its 2018 fiscal year, commodities trader Cargill had the highest year-end net earnings and adjusted operating earnings in its 153-year history, excluding earnings from its investment in fertilizer producer The Mosaic Company, which it exited in fiscal 2011.
For the full year, adjusted operating earnings reached $3.2 billion, up 6 percent from fiscal 2017.
The privately-held company said its animal nutrition and protein unit - which includes beef and feed - was the largest contributor to its earnings in the quarter ended May 31.
The Minnesota-based company - the world's largest ground-beef supplier - bet heavily on protein. Analysts say that has given the company an edge over its grain rivals such Archer Daniels Midland Co and Bunge Ltd, and helped it offset the wide swings in global grain pricing.
But Cargill's origination and processing division - which includes its grain trading business - also had a turn-around. It exceeded last year's annual results, and had its best fourth quarter in seven years.
Market volatility after a drought in Argentina began to influence global flows of corn, soybeans and related products. Trade tensions between the United States and several of its top export markets, including China and Mexico, added to it.
Cargill and its rivals make money buying, selling, storing and processing crops. With networks of elevators, mills and processing plants around the world, the companies have been able to capitalize on shortages in some geographies and surpluses in others.
The company said it also broke ground on a new biodiesel facility in Kansas, and is expanding its soy crush capacity in Brazil and the U.S.
But Cargill officials have been critical in recent weeks of the escalating trade fight, and tit-for-tat tariffs, between China and the U.S.
"Our strong results show we are creating the connections the world needs for vibrant food and agriculture both today and tomorrow," Cargill Chairman David MacLennan said in a statement. "We are standing up for inclusive global trade that lets food move freely."
Cargill's net income rose to $711 million in the fourth quarter ended May 31, from $347 million a year earlier.
Adjusted operating earnings jumped 76 percent to $809 million in the reported quarter. Revenue rose 7 percent to $30.4 billion.
(Additional reporting by Karan Nagarkatti in Bengaluru; Editing by Susan Thomas)
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Updated Date: Jul 13, 2018 00:06 AM