By Judy McKinnon
Fertilizer-maker Agrium Inc. (AGU) said late Thursday it had a record fourth-quarter profit, which came in well ahead of analyst expectations, as sales from its retail segment climbed 8%.
The Calgary, Alberta-based company, which is embroiled in a proxy battle with U.S. hedge fund Jana Partners, said net earnings rose to $354 million, or $2.34 a share, from $193 million, or $1.20 a share, a year earlier.
Results in the latest quarter were bolstered by gains totaling 18 cents a share, while year-earlier earnings included a loss from discontinued operations of 85 cents a share.
Excluding those items, Agrium earned $2.16 a share, up from $2.05 a year earlier. The Thomson Reuters mean estimate was for a profit of $2 a share, while Agrium itself had previously guided for $1.50-$1.90 a share, excluding any hedging gains or losses and share-based payment expenses.
Sales of $3.26 billion were up from $3.18 billion a year earlier, also beating the $3.20 billion analysts were expecting. Retail sales rose to a record $2.0 billion, Agrium said, while wholesale sales fell slightly due to weak international potash demand.
Late last year, Jana Partners proposed a slate of five new directors for election to Agrium's board. The New York hedge fund Thursday bumped up its stake in the fertilizer producer to 7.5% from 6.5%, saying it's "confident" it's going to prevail in the proxy battle. Agrium has said it believes it has "overwhelming" shareholder support. Shareholders will vote at Agrium's annual meeting April 9.
Write to Judy McKinnon at [email protected]
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