UPDATE: Seed company Monsanto plans deeper staff cuts

Thursday, September 10, 2009 | 3:50 p.m. CDT; updated 4:45 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 10, 2009

ST. LOUIS — Monsanto Co., the world's biggest seed maker, said Thursday it plans to make deeper work-force cuts than previously announced, saying it will reduce its staff by about 8 percent to cut costs.

The St. Louis-based company also said its 2009 earnings would come in at the low end of its previous forecast in part because of weaker-than-expected results from Roundup and other herbicides.

Its shares tumbled $4.18, or 5 percent, to close at $79.30 Thursday.

In June, Monsanto said it was cutting about 4 percent of its staff, or about 900 jobs. The new target of 8 percent indicates Monsanto is cutting about 1,800 jobs, according to spokeswoman Kelli Powers, who also said most of the employees working in the U.S. have already been notified of the job cuts.

Executives said in June the cuts were necessary because of surprisingly weak Roundup sales. After Roundup's patent expired in 2000, a flood of competitors entered the market. Monsanto was caught off guard this year when generic Roundup products went global and gutted prices.

In response, Monsanto restructured the company to have one smaller division focus on Roundup while the other divisions focus primarily on selling patented — and profitable — genetically engineered seeds. The job cuts are part of the restructuring, which Monsanto estimates could cost between $550 million and $600 million.

The company said it hopes the restructuring will save between $220 million to $250 million annually, with one-third recognized in fiscal 2010 and the full amount in 2011. The company employs about 21,700 people.

Splitting off the company's Roundup division dovetails with Monsanto's broader strategy of developing lines of genetically engineered crops.

"We are now managing our way through a competitive spike in the supply of generic glyphosate," Chief Financial Officer Carl Casale said in a statement.

Separately, Monsanto said gross profit for its Roundup and other glyphosate-based herbicides will be lower than expected.

It said it expects earnings per share for this year at the low end of its previously announced range of $4.40 to $4.50. Results will be helped by a lower tax rate, cost savings and strong demand for seeds, Monsanto said.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect earnings of $4.41 a share.

For fiscal 2010, Monsanto expects earnings between $3.10 and $3.30 a share, while analysts expect $4.08 per share.

In 2012, Monsanto said it hopes to more than double its gross profit compared with fiscal 2007 on strong demand for seeds and genomics.

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