Glencore's Agriculture Flop Shows Why It Still Needs M&A

(Bloomberg) -- Glencore Plc’s poor performance in agriculture shows exactly why the company still needs a big deal to compete on the international stage.

While rival Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. used its global reach to profit from market dislocations this year -- like U.S. soybean tariffs and widespread drought -- Glencore missed out because it lacks presence in key businesses. The company’s footprint in U.S. crops is close to zero and it’s much smaller in Brazilian soybeans than competitors.

"Given the geographic distribution of our assets, we have had a tough first half of 2018," Glencore said in a statement on Wednesday.

Profits from the agriculture trading division plunged 56 percent during the first half to the lowest level in five years, caused by poor crops in Argentina and Australia. Even so, agriculture is a relatively small business and Glencore’s overall profits were an all-time high, boosted by a giant metal-marketing and coal-trading network.

Business wide, adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization was $8.27 billion, up 23 percent from a year ago. In metals, the company enjoyed the best trading results in at least a decade, and energy earnings were also higher.

Glencore's Agriculture Flop Shows Why It Still Needs M&A

The disparity between Glencore’s star metals business and its struggling agriculture side shows why the commodity giant has been so keen to revamp the crop division. Last year, the company proposed a merger with Bunge Ltd., one of the top four agricultural commodity traders, but was rebuffed.

On a conference call with reporters today, Chief Executive Officer Ivan Glasenberg said he wants to grow the business and get bigger in the U.S., but only when he finds the right deal.

“We would like to grow the agriculture business, but there haven’t been great opportunities. We’re in no rush to do it,” Glasenberg said. “If there aren’t opportunities there’s no reason to do it right now.”

Read more about trading earnings:
  • Glencore’s TOPLive blog takeaways
  • Bunge Takes Soybeans Loss After Wrong-Way Bet on Trade War
  • ADM’s Stellar Turnaround Has Little to Do With Pure Crop Trading
  • Glencore Cost Inflation Bites, No DOJ Update: Street Wrap

At this stage, it’s unknown whether Glencore will decide to resume advances for Bunge or pursue another deal. Today’s results made clear that the company is stockpiling cash, possibly for future acquisitions or a dividend. Glencore also said it expects a much better second-half performance in agriculture.

For its part, Bunge posted a surprise loss for the second quarter after making a wrong-way bet on soybeans and speculating the trade war between the U.S. and China would be brief.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.