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Monsanto Company (NYSE:MON)

F2Q08 Earnings Call

April 2, 2008 9:30 am ET

Executives

Scarlett Foster – VP IR

Terry Crews – CFO

Hugh Grant – Chairman, CEO

Analysts

Mike Judd – Greenwich Consultants

Jeff Zekauskas – J.P. Morgan

Mark Connelly – Credit Suisse

P.J. Juvekar – Citigroup

Peter Butler – Glenhill Investments

Kevin McCarthy – Banc of America Securities

Vincent Andrews – Morgan Stanley

Mark Gulley – Soleil Securities

Bob Koort – Goldman Sachs

Chris Shaw – UBS

Don Carson – Merrill Lynch

Analyst for Laurence Alexander – Jefferies & Co.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for standing by. Welcome to the second quarter 2008 results conference call. (Operator instructions). I would now like to turn the conference over to Ms. Scarlett Foster, Vice President of Investor Relations, please go ahead ma’am.

Scarlett Foster

Thank you Jose and good morning to everyone from sunny St. Louis. I’d like to welcome you to Monsanto’s second quarter earnings conference call and I’m joined this morning by Hugh Grant, our Chairman and CEO and by Terry Crews our CFO and by Laura Meyer and Bryan Hurley, my colleagues in Investor Relations. Given both our second quarter results and our revised ongoing full year guidance, this is shaping up to be another year of exceptional growth for Monsanto. Importantly, the results here today are milestones that propel our growth through 2012. This morning Terry will spend some time reviewing our gross profit and gross margin results and outlook and Hugh will take that financial leg a step further to track our 2008 progress against our 2012 commitments.

Before we begin I’d like to remind you that we’re webcasting this call and you can access it at Monsanto’s website at Monsanto.com. The replay is also available at that address. For those of you who would like to go to our website, the slides for this call are posted on the investor information page. The page numbers are on the bottom right hand side of each slide. We’re providing you with EPS measures both on a GAAP basis and on an ongoing business basis. In those cases where we refer to non GAAP financial measures, we’ve provided you with a reconciliation to the GAAP measures on the last side and in the earnings press release.

I need to remind you that this call will include statements concerning future events and financial results. Because these statements are based on assumptions and facts that involve risk and uncertainty, the company’s actual performance and results may vary in a material way from those expressed or implied in any forward looking statements. A description of the factors that may cause such a variance is included in the Safe Harbor language contained in our most recent 10Q and today’s press release.

I’d like to start by asking you to reference slide 4. Ongoing EPS for the quarter increased by 81% to $1.79 per share. If you move to slide 5 you will see this gain reflected a 45% increase in total revenues and a 54% increase in gross profit with seeds and genomics gross profit up 37% while Roundup increased more than 200%. Margins overall for the quarter were higher reflecting strong demand, prices and volumes around the world and across the portfolio. The growth in seeds and traits underscores the trends that set the stage for Monsanto’s long term success.

Notably, in the quarter, the 39% increase in seeds and traits revenue reflects stronger prices, market share gains and increased trait penetration. This was partially offset by the cost of goods effect of higher commodity prices for some seed production, particularly in soybeans. This cost of goods effect meant year over year margins in seeds and traits were down 1 point. For the full year, we would anticipate that margins for the seeds and traits segment will be flat, although corn margins are expected to be up by 1 percentage point. The second quarter also reflected the expansion of the Roundup franchise with price and volume up globally with some smaller benefit from currency.

In the US, we saw larger branded volumes than we have historically as we sold more branded Roundup and as our customers purchased more product in the second quarter than they have historically to secure supply and price in a tight market. For the full year, we would expect US and global volumes to be because of organic growth and branded volumes to be a larger part of the overall mix. These same trends led to ongoing EPS for the first half reaching $2.25 an increase of 94%. As a result of this strong performance through the first half of the year and our line of sight through year end, we raised our fiscal year 2008 guidance last year to $3.15 to $3.25 for ongoing EPS. Growth of well over 50% compared with 2007 ongoing earnings.

To reach this target, seasoned traits gross profit will need to grow 20% or more to be in the range of $3.6-$3.7 billion while the Roundup franchise will have to deliver $1.7-$1.8 billion in gross profit. Free cash flow for the year to date was just under $1.5 billion reflecting both earning growth and a higher than usual level of prepayments for Roundup. This was exclusive of the planned acquisition of the De Ruiter vegetable seed business which we announced on Monday and would hope to close before the end of this calendar year. It is inclusive however of the $163 million in cash we received in the second quarter as remuneration for our claim in the Solutia bankruptcy settlement. So with that short overview I’d like to turn the call over to Terry who will go further in depth in our gross profit targets and how 2008 is shaping up to accelerate those commitments.

Terry Crews

Thank you Scarlett and good morning to everyone that is joining us on the line this morning. When we laid out our five year growth commitments to you at our November investor day we set out several milestones for gross profit and gross margin growth. These targets reflected our ability to continue to deliver ongoing earnings growth on average in the mid to high teens over the next five years. As higher market share, global trait expansion and new product launches more than offset the effect of greater competition globally. Starting with slide 6, our performance in the quarter and what we expect for the full fiscal year gives us further confidence that not only is this growth achievable, it is actually ahead of schedule. Four metrics from our investor day are important to us to update today, especially in light of our performance in the second quarter and our new guidance for the full year.

Let me take you back to those November 8 targets. First, we projected that our seeds and traits business globally would deliver $6.5-$7 billion and gross profit in 2012. Secondly, we targeted gross profit for Roundup to stabilize at $1.2 billion in 2012. Third, we flagged an interim milestone for gross margins estimating that we could achieve margins of 52-54% in 2010. Finally, the sum total of all these metrics is that we would nearly double gross profit in 2012 from over $4 billion in 2007 to a target of more than $8 billion in 2012. So a logical place to begin in evaluating these four factors is with our seeds and trait business.

We anticipated then as we do now that our seeds and traits business will continue to be the major driver of our growth over the next five years. What we’ve delivered for the first half of this year indicates that our seeds and traits business is ahead of plan despite some ups and downs among the various crops in terms of gross profit contribution. Our new guidance of $3.15 to $3.25 for ongoing EPS for 2008 assumes that the seeds and traits gross profit will now be in the range of $3.6 to $3.7 billion a 20% or greater growth year over year. As we expected our 2008 seeds and traits performance is being led by corn.

By year end, our growth in corn seed market share globally increased trait penetration, greater price and flexibility for our higher yielding products will lift corn gross profit by nearly 25%. This increase on an absolute basis will come even as we offset higher production costs for corn seeds because of higher commodity prices and increase winter production to meet customer demand for triple stacked corn. For the quarter, corn gross profit is up 48% and margins are up 1 point. Different than last year, traits are a richer percentage of the gross profit mix in corn in the second quarter this year.

Margins in the third quarter will be flat reflecting a higher mix of seeds and overall corn gross profit. By year end, though, corn margins should be up by 1 percentage point. Even with the current debate over how much of which crops will be planted, we’re very comfortable with our ability to meet our seeds and traits guidance for the year. As we demonstrated with this quarter’s earnings and our upgrade to guidance, incremental acreage shifts do not have a dramatic effect on our overall performance. As we noted earlier this year and as you can see on slide 7, for every 1 million acres that shift from corn to soybeans or vice versa, on average there’s just a $0.01 change in EPS.

Soybeans are enjoying a resurgence from a planted acreage perspective in the US. And given that our Roundup Ready trait here is already fully penetrated, we won’t get a margin lift from soybean traits until we introduce Roundup Ready to Yield in 2009. Additionally, soybean seed production costs have risen dramatically with higher commodity prices. Given the pace and timing of that climb we were not fully hedged for the higher level of soybean volumes ultimately needed this year. As a result we would expect to see lower margins for the year as we have in the second quarter. Absolute gross profit is up modestly in the quarter and is expected to remain up modestly for the year as higher trait acreage in the US and increased Roundup Ready trait revenue in Brazil will help offset the increase in costs of goods sold.

In cotton we still believe we are uniquely positioned to create greater value from the Delta and Pine Land business and that is true irrespective of planted cotton acres in the US. Our focus in cotton right now is less about the 2008 US season specifically and more about the turnaround of Delta and Pine Land starting in 2009. The Delta and Pine Land acquisition was concluded too late in 2007 for us to make the more trait intensive production choices that are a hallmark of Monsanto. Thus we are limiting the flexibility of what we have to sell in the market this year. With the addition of Delta and Pine Land’s significant seed footprint, our cotton portfolio reflects a larger percentage of seed than it has in previous years.

Seed margins are lower than trait margins and we will see that dilutive effect of that mix in our first full year of ownership of Delta and Pine Land. All that said, cotton gross profit for the year is likely to be up as we expect our cotton business in India to continue to grow. But they won’t be able to offset the margin dilution from the US business for this year. As you see on slide 8, or vegetable seed business on the other hand is a turnaround story now and the combined effect of the proved operational performance and higher sales is bearing itself out for the quarter and the year in increased gross profit and improved gross margins.

The commercial backbone in vegetables has never been stronger. Strategic growth initiatives are in place to boost price and drive a richer product mix, translating top line growth to improve margins. Coupled with the operational improvements made over the last two years, Seminis’ gross margin should lift this year into the mid 50’s. The addition of De Ruiter seed should boost our longer term vegetable seed growth outlook, increasing revenue and gross profit projections by more than 20% through 2012. The sum of all these parts is projected gross profit growth of 20% or greater for seeds and traits for the full year.

This performance in seeds and traits puts us ahead of schedule on our overall growth plan and puts us on strong footing for our 2009 fiscal year. The most significant change in gross profit for this year has come from Roundup of course which will more than double its gross profit year over year. The quarter and year to date results for Roundup globally reflect price, volume and mix shifts that we now believe will be sustained through the year and will result in gross profit contribution of $1.7-$1.8 billion with margins returning to the mid 40’s level. The question with Roundup is this just good luck and a good year or is this a sustainable trend? To gauge that we look at three key factors, price, volume and mix and compare those against the global supply demand environment. Our analysis indicates that the supply demand tension will remain.

Volumes will grow in low single digit ranges because of the growth of Roundup Ready crops globally, the expanded use of conservation tillage practices and higher use rates by farmers. The current pricing likewise looks to be sustainable. Generic suppliers that were once subsidized are now constrained by higher raw material prices, lower export subsidies and more stringent practices for environmental controls and profitability. This has been particularly true outside of the United States where the increase to the net average selling price for the first half has been significantly higher than what we’ve experienced here in the US. We anticipate that the current supply demand trends will continue for the next five years. Our current thinking with target Roundup gross profit in the range of $1.8 billion through 2012 up from our original $1.2 billion.

This new projection for Roundup performance assumes lower single digit volume growth coupled with the net average selling price for our branded Roundup in the range of $16-$18 per gallon, plus continuation of our best in class manufacturing cost position. While we believe Roundup performance is a new band, we don’t anticipate replicating the extraordinary growth that we’ve experienced in 2008. The path forward for Roundup is more gentle than steep, although it may not be linear.

The majority of our gross profit gain in 2008 is contributing nicely to net income as we are holding our 2008 spending for SG&A at 20% of sales which is at the lower end of our previous forecast. Also, we anticipate R&D as a percent of sales to be approximately 9% in fiscal year 2008. Even as we accommodate the peak regulatory expenses for Roundup Ready to Yield and Smart Stacks and the rapid advancement of new products in our pipeline. Overall gross profit outlook is based on our revised commitments for 2008 as shown on slide 9, our important milestones toward reaching our 2012 targets.

In November we set a 2012 gross profit target of over $8 billion, with 2008 gross profit expected to increase to more than $5 billion, we’re already one-third of the way through our 2012 target in our first year. This will also translate into an estimated margin of 53% for this year, reaching our targeted 52-54% gross margin two years ahead of schedule. Obviously we’ve had a tailwind from the unprecedented performance in our global Roundup business. If you adjust our 2012 gross profit target just for the change in Roundup gross profit, the $1.8 billion, we would now expect our total gross profit to increase by $600 million, exceeding $8.5-$9 billion by 2012.

We’ve also experienced some earlier than anticipated momentum for seeds and traits with stronger market share gains than anticipated in Argentina and timely approvals for bio-tech traits in Argentina and Brazil. We’ll provide a revised 2012 goals to you after we have the US season in hand and have made production and pricing decisions for the 2009 season globally. This change should again demonstrate that the true growth in this business still rests squarely on the shoulders of seed market share, trait penetration and new product launches.

So with that overview on income let me move to cash flow. If you move to slide 10, the revised free cash guidance of $1.3 billion for the full year is exclusive of the planned acquisition of De Ruiter and inclusive of the total cash from the Solutia settlement. This change in guidance from last week now reflects broad approval for some anticipated needs for additional capital spending. Because of the acceleration of our corn seed market share gains, we’ve pulled forward a portion of the two year $610 million planned capital spending for seed production. Additionally, given the supply demand dynamics for Roundup, we’ve just received sign off on a $200 million de-bottlenecking project at our Luling facility that will be completed in fiscal year 2010.

As I noted earlier, the supply demand equation for Roundup is tight and we are uniquely suited given our cost curve and brand strength to solve the supply issue rationally. More importantly, we need to insure that we are protecting our Roundup Ready trait franchise by continuing to be the consistent high quality supplier of glyphosate in the global marketplace. And this is much of impetus behind our capital spending decisions.

In total, our capital spend for the year will now be in the range of $950 million and we expect it to remain at this level in 2009 as we continue our investments to meet the growing demand for both seeds and Roundup. We’ve also said that we will continue to use free cash for share repurchase and are currently more than 54% of the way through our current $800 million authorization with $429 million in shares repurchased. We are currently evaluating the use of share repurchases and dividends as other mechanisms to return value to shareholders in light of the increase in operating cash from our Roundup business and the influx of cash from the Solutia settlement.

So in summary, the second quarter both from an ongoing EPS and a free cash perspective tells the story not only of outstanding growth today but of the potential for growth yet to be unlocked. Those areas where gross margins are squeezed today in crops like soybeans and cotton and reality point to a resurgence in 2009. We have substantial growth ahead of us just from what we have in hand as we grow market share globally and as we lift margins with greater trait penetration and greater stack trait concentration. On top of that we’re poised to launch two game changing platforms in the next two years that will bring even greater yields and greater value to growers.

As we’ve expanded growth into new space with vegetables and we’ll build on that platform with the De Ruiter acquisition in anticipation of the products that will come from our molecular breeding program. Whether it’s Roundup, Dekalb, Asgrow, Delta and Pine Land or Seminis, we’re succeeding though because we do one thing better than competition, we bring new tools of greater value to farmers worldwide. So with that I’d like to turn the call over to Hugh for a more expanded strategic review.

Hugh Grant

Thanks very much Terry. As I listened to Terry once again review where we are, where we’re going this year and where we hope to be in five years, I’m struck that we are rare as a technology company and as a technology company in the agricultural space and that we can provide such a line of sight six months into the fiscal year, not only in what we’ll achieve in the next six months, but what we will achieve by the end of 2012. I’d like to spend some time with you today reaching out and touching those next four and a half years and giving you insight into our latest thinking in how we bridge from this April to August of 2012. If you turn to slide 11, let me tell you broadly how I’m looking at our long term commitments.

We’ve laid out six core growth drivers all in seeds and traits. The gross profit benefit of these growth drivers rollout differently, [casing and a leaving] effect over time. And most importantly when we look at the dashboard of these growth drivers in 2008, every one of them is on track with the 2012 plan and in fact the growth drivers that are the most meaningful to the strategy in 2008, I think we’re actually ahead of plan. So with that backdrop, I think the logical place to start is in corn. Between now and the summer of 2012, corn looms large in our growth plans. And what’s most remarkable about the corn growth is its balance.

There’s opportunity in the United States and in international markets in seeds and in traits in existing markets and in new uncharted markets. Around the world we’re expanding the footprint of our corn seeds and setting the stage for accelerated trait penetration. If you look at slide 12, within the US, Dekalb continues to be on track for a 2-3 point share gain this year, most of which appears to be coming at the expense of other large national brands. Less visible but equally profitable on a gross profit per acre basis is the American Seeds business which we forecast to grow share by 1-2 points this year.

If you move to slide 13, you can see that growth in our international corn business is as impressive as that in the US with 5 points of organic growth in Argentina, we hold 45% share, nearly three times as large as Nedera, the second largest competitor. Similarly in Brazil, if you look at the entire hybrid market across both growing seasons, our share stands at 40% making us almost twice as large as the nearest competitor, Pioneer. What you see in here, many variations on market share calculations across the industry, for clarity and for consistency, the numbers that you get from Monsanto are always based on our sales volume divided by the size of the entire hybrid market for a defined region, like the EU 27 or for a country like Brazil.

More importantly, this footprint sets the stage for the next wave of growth in corn traits. In the US we’ve accomplished something special this year. Going into the year we announced price increases that reflected the tremendous value that our traits are delivering. Against that, we’ve increased trait penetration, grown our brand share and done it all in a market that’s seen some incremental contraction. I think that dynamic is rare and I believe it speaks to the value that farmers place on our products. So as the season gets ready to start, the data points in the US all support this positive trait landscape. If you go to slide 14, we originally forecasted triple penetration across channels of 25-27 million acres.

We now believe that penetration will be above that range reaching 26-28 million acres even with lower projected total corn. Our trait value has been validated in the marketplace and the net selling price for our triple stack and our branded Dekalb seeds, including both germplasm and trait has increased more than 20% this year, consistent with our earlier guidance. As we’re finalizing production decisions for fiscal year 2009, we’re poised to see a new lift from launches of corn traits in Argentina and Brazil, shown on slide 15. In the 2009 fiscal year, 30-40% of the Dekalb seed that we sell in Argentina will be with the newly approved double stack. That equates to a 15% penetration rate in the first year of internationalization. So to put that in some perspective, we didn’t reach 15% penetration with the first double stacks in the US until the third year of commercial availability. In Brazil, we’ve just received approval for Monsanto hybrids contained in our first approved corn trait and the ramp up to launch is now in full throttle.

Given our current production volumes, we believe that we’ll have enough seed available to make an initial splash in year one with 1-2 million acres of yield guard seed in total for both the summer and winter planting seasons in fiscal year 2009. Insect pressure in Brazil is intense and the average retail price per acre will reflect the substitution value for insecticides as well as the farmer’s cost savings and yield gains. The total value package for the yield guard trait runs between $20 and $30 and we will price against a portion of that value just as we do globally. All of this I think sets the stage for the launch of smart stacks in 2010 in the US and in fairly rapid succession in Latin America, all of course, as usual, pending regulatory approvals.

We’re completing the production decisions now for the starting corn [sees] of smart stacks seed that we’ll produce this year. Those in turn will be the bulk up for the commercial launch in a year and a half. Once again, we’ll have a significant first mover advantage with a breakthrough technology. Most importantly, smart stacks will be the platform for the new traits that will emerge from our rich product pipeline in 2010 and beyond.

Corn is a continuing growth story just with what we have in hand and then the bar is raised and the growth reset with the launch of smart stacks. Soybeans, as Terry mentioned, have been at peak penetration from a trait perspective for the past five years or so in the US. If you move to slide 16, you can see that soybeans reemerge as a growth driver in 2009 with Roundup Ready to Yield with 1-2 million of pre-commercial quantities in the 2009 growing season, we’ll again set the standard for the introduction of a second generation product. You can imagine then the impact of a full blown launch of 5-6 million acres in 2010, again with a significant first mover advantage and a pricing premium. So for those of you who will join us for the whistle stop tour this year, you won’t just see a golden acre but I think instead you’ll see a golden farm, rich with Roundup Ready to Yield soybean seed being produced to sell to farmers in 2009.

We’ve delivered on every time table that we laid out for Roundup Ready to Yield and we’ve raised the bar I think at what defines a hit project and an accelerated commercial launch. Most importantly for the farmer, if you’re looking for a consistent reliable supplier of new technologies delivered as promised, we’ve once again proven that Monsanto is the only seed and trait company that you can count on year after year. By 2010, we should reach full penetration in Brazil of Roundup Ready soybeans, just ahead of the launch of an insect protected version of Roundup Ready to Yield, specifically designed for the Brazilian market.

The Brazilian products will price against both the added value for yield plus the substitution cost versus conventional insecticides. So let’s just take a minute and talk about cotton and vegetables. The cotton business is really a tale of two countries over the next couple of years. One is the tale of an Indian market that’s converting over to a stacked product for insect protection, with accelerating this growth season with a target for full penetration by 2012. The other is the tale of the turnaround of the US Delta and Pine Land brand and which the entire portfolio will be converted to double stack of second generation products also by 2012.

As Terry mentioned, the costs in turnaround will be staged in 2009 but the vegetable turnaround is behind us and the growth is beginning to be reflected in the numbers. We have a clear line of sight to a mid 60’s margin profile in 2012 which will only further benefit from the acquisition of the De Ruiter presence and protected culture. So in short, nothing has changed about our game plan and growth prospects for our seeds and trait businesses, other than an acceleration of potential, a confirmation of our leadership and a determination to drive harder, faster and further than in the first decade of biotech. Once again we’ve expanded our genetic footprint by converting cash from Roundup into acquisitions in higher margin seed businesses where we can create even greater growth by applying our technology to underleveraged pools of germplasm and to untapped market potential.

The strength of our core is being masked somewhat this year by the unlocking of new value in the Roundup franchises. I make no apologies for satisfying the increased demand from our customers for high quality branded Roundup, nor for aggressively managing the world’s largest agricultural chemical in such a way that we can sustainably drive greater cash generation that in turn can be applied to fund the growth of our business. But we aren’t shifting our focus because of Roundup’s success.

Between now and 2012, we’re the only company in the ag space that can successfully launch a game changing platform every other year. Between now and 2012, the only company in the ag space that can offer growers new technologies that continue to deliver a step change in yield. Between now and 2012, I think we’re the only company in agriculture that can point to consistent growth irrespective of the swings in commodity prices. Fluctuations in planted acres are the usual ups and down in the popularity of things like ethanol. We’re uniquely creating new value for the farmer and for our owners.

Scarlett Foster

Jose, I’d like to go ahead and open the call now to questions and ask that for everyone on the line if you could please hold your questions to one per person so we can take as many questions from people as possible. You’re always welcome to rejoin the queue for a follow up question. So if you’d go ahead please.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

Thank you. (Operator instructions). And our first question comes from the line of Mike Judd of Greenwich Consultants, please proceed with your question.

Mike Judd – Greenwich Consultants

Yes, congratulations on a good quarter. A two part question relating to weather in the Midwest, we all know at this point that its been cold and wet there. On the Roundup side, could you talk a little bit about what impact that had on volumes in the first quarter and what impact you expect in the second quarter? And then the second part of that question, I’m just wondering if you could, I’ve been hearing that some of the soybean seeds that have already been planted haven’t germinated and if there is some sort of issue around you know the failure to germinate, either with corn or with soybeans, what policy return policy or other type of policy does Monsanto have with farmers? Thanks.

Hugh Grant

Mike, thanks for the two part question, I’ll just touch briefly on spring and where we are in the season and then maybe ask Terry to comment on product movement in US both in Roundup and your question on seeds. So if we had this phone call last week I think I would have been saying it’s a cold wet spring in the Midwest but we’re enjoying sunshine today. So spring will come but it’s still early.

The good news is we’ve had an enormous amount of soil moisture this year and if you’re choosing conditions in the spring, moisture is always good. The bad news is seed beds are still cold, probably unseasonably cold. So no weeds are growing, no crops have been planted, so Roundups not been sprayed yet and soybeans haven’t been planted. So really what we’re seeing in the market right now is the pre-positioning to get products through retail and getting ready and moved to farm in anticipation of the season. And Terry maybe a few words on effects we’ve seen in Roundup and also soybean movement.

Terry Crews

Well relative to Roundup I’ll begin with that, I think it’s more indicative of the supply demand situation than it is weather but we have seen some pre-buying of Roundup in the US a bit earlier than trend has been in the past couple of years. So the second quarter does reflect the higher US component of Roundup than what we would normally see but again I want to emphasize I believe that’s supply demand related, not related to weather. Relative to crops, very little is planted and our return policies are about the same as they always have been, so there is a return capability.

However in soybeans, in some cases we have limited the amount of returns that can be sent back. But that again is related to supply of soybean seed to be used in the market, it’s not at all related to germination issues. And we’re way too early to be talking about germination concerns in soybeans or corn either. The last comment I would just make relative to the weather, one of the things that’s changed in US farm is they can plant a lot of corn in a very short period of timeframe, so we’re really not into the major planting season until we get into late April anyway into early May, so way too early to speculate about whether this weather will affect the corn acreage or not.

Mike Judd – Greenwich Consultants

Thanks for the help.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Jeff Zekauskas of J.P. Morgan, please proceed with your question.

Jeff Zekauskas – J.P. Morgan

Hi, good morning. I was wondering about your corn seed revenue growth, you were up $555 million in the quarter. I was wondering how you did that? And if your prices are up, order of magnitude 20%, that’s maybe $238 million, so there’s an extra $317 and your triple stack forecast is that you’ll sell maybe 10 million more acres, so even if all of that was incremental and you sold the whole year in the quarter, that would get you to $360, so could you just analyze the revenue growth for us in the corn seed and trait business?

Terry Crews

I’ll take the question Jeff. First of all it really gets back to the same story I guess we repeat it every time we see corn grow but at the end of the day it’s the reason it grows. There is a price effect which we’ve, which you’ve actually outline for us already in your comments. But the next two things that contribute to that revenue growth are the continued trade penetration and the trade up to triple stacks. So we see that growth, so that’s contributing there. The third thing is that we continue to grow our share in both our branded business and in our ASI businesses, so the revenue growth is driven by all those same three factors that we’ve discussed previously.

I do believe when I look at the calendarization of the quarter in the US, we see a bit more technology in the second quarter that we typically have seen in the third quarter and we pointed that out a little bit in our script this morning. But that’s really what’s happening in the US, it’s really driven by those same three fundamentals and we feel really good about what we’re seeing at this point in the season. But in addition to that we highlighted that we continue to see international growth so contributing factors due to our share growth in Argentina and acreage growth in both Argentina and Brazil are contributing to that as well. So it’s a combination of all those factors.

Jeff Zekauskas – J.P. Morgan

Okay thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Mark Connelly of Credit Suisse, please proceed with your question.

Mark Connelly – Credit Suisse

Thanks, I supposed there will be a thousand questions on corn but I was wondering if we could talk about the longer term vegetable outlook for a second. As we start to think about you know the period beyond say 2009, I’m curious how sensitive your expectation for vegetable seed growth is to the rate of farm commercialization or any other big bottlenecks that are out there. Obviously the growth looks like it’s there on the demand side, I’m just curious what’s going to determine the rate of growth and how quickly we get there?

Hugh Grant

So I’ll maybe stop and let Patty say a few words relative to De Ruitor because I think there’s a new trend emerging within this. But there’s no big bottlenecks Mark and there’s nothing in there that is a big inflection point. I think veggies is back on track. I think it’s made a really nice contribution for the quarter and will do it for the year and its demand, its demand driven and it’s our ability to command prices as we improve quality.

As the molecular mark of suites that we’re developing kick in, which is the turn of the decade, early in the new decade, I think that gives us additional opportunities to add value to seeds and I think maybe invite Terry to say a few words. The De Ruitor acquisition changes the game in that protected culture segment which is an emerging trend, if you’re in a supermarket in the US today, about half of those high quality tomatoes would come from protected culture environments. So, Terry, maybe a couple of words to Mark’s point.

Terry Crews

Well maybe just to summarize really Hugh’s comments, one of the things that’s occurring in vegetables is that there is going to be a premium paid for seed that can deliver value. And the protected culture market is an indication of that where margins are greater than they are in the open field business and therefore the margins at De Ruitor are greater than what we’ve seen in our Seminis business.

The key for us is to get those new products that have good traits in them, not biotech but good breeding traits in them and take that to the marketplace and let growers see that value and then translate that value into revenue growth for us. So I think the key for us is twofold, we need to use our molecular tools that we’ve got and have used within row crops to deliver a better product and then we need to show growers that that better product gives them a better value at the end and if we do that we’ll be able to see the kind of lift we’re looking for in vegetables. We’re very pleased with the turnaround we’ve seen this year, we’re very confident in our ability to reach our objectives in 2012 in vegetables.

Mark Connelly – Credit Suisse

Thank you that’s helpful.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of P.J. Juvekar of Citigroup, please proceed with your question.

P.J. Juvekar – Citigroup

Yes, hi, good morning. Question on Brazil, you bought Agroeste there, can you elaborate on your strategy there, how much of Agroeste sales are in genetically modified seed and how much of it [unintelligible] summer seed?

Hugh Grant

Hi good morning P.J., so there I would guess that their percentage today that’s in biotech is small or close to zero. And that’s good news because it’s so lopsided there. We’re in the process today integrating their manufacturing production and bringing them in line with you know Monsanto. The split between the two seasons, I don’t know. I guess it would be in proportion with everything else. But Terry I think that’s one we’re going to have to get back to you on. I think the real headwind in Agroese there is we bolted on a significant portion of ten share points in one step. And when you think about genetic footprint and you think about the capacity that brings to expand share as biotech is coming in, that’s the real headwind I think rather than seasonal splits. And Terry.

Terry Crews

The only thing I would add is just that it just proves really the strategy we’ve embarked on with Agroeste is a good strategy because what we’ve been doing is trying to stabilize our existing Dekalb brand which we feel good about this year, adding 10 share points to Agroeste and sitting in the framework for biotech approvals which are now coming in Brazil. So I don’t know, P.J. I just feel like it’s really a validation of the value in expanding that genetic footprint in anticipation of biotech in Brazil being approved.

Hugh Grant

I think that’s the key, we’re 40% share down there and everybody runs the algebra differently but if you just take total number of acres and say how many of those acres are we represented on, the Agroeste acquisition by standard math gets you 40% share and I think that’s the.

P.J. Juvekar – Citigroup

Maybe I could ask a quick question on page 7 of your slides. You know your soybeans indexed gross profit is half or less than half that of corn. I was just wondering where could it go with Roundup Ready to Yield coming on next year? Thank you.

Hugh Grant

We haven’t announced price movement.

Terry Crews

We’re kind of looking at each other, we haven’t announced pricing on Roundup Ready to Yield, we’ve talked a little bit about the value that we believe Roundup Ready to Yield can bring to the farm somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-$30 per acre based on the yield improvements that you get. I think there’s two sides of soybeans though, one is managing through not having the kind of surprise which we had this year, even with the amount of acres of soybeans that are going to be grown, so we managed the cost side more effectively and I think we’ll do that and we’ll see that margin lift and that’s going to occur more immediately. And then that’s kind of the value that we talked about Roundup Ready to Yield. The third contributing value to soybeans which is going to make it encouraging as we get out to this 2012 timeframe is what we’ve been able to do in Brazil and potentially even in Argentina in taking Roundup Ready to Yield and BT Stack there.

P.J. Juvekar – Citigroup

Thank you, I’ll follow up, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Peter Butler, please proceed with your question.

Peter Butler – Glenhill Investments

Great quarter. Could you talk a little bit about what your surveys of farmers are telling you in regard to the drought gene that you’re going to be introducing? How might this change their purchasing pattern and your market share and related to this, how might Rohm & Haas and [Vinca] fit in with this picture?

Hugh Grant

Thanks for the two questions Peter. So I can tell you based on meeting, maybe not surveys, just meeting directly face to face with farmers in the last few weeks myself, there is tremendous anticipation for the technology. And a lot of questions on how quickly can we spread this into platforms like cotton as well. So tremendous pent up demand because water I think becomes an increasingly important piece of the mix regardless of the size of the commodity markets or pricing, so huge. Impact on share, too early to speculate but I think, our goal in this is to get smart stacks as the new platform and then drought would be loaded on top of that platform and that is a really, really impressive lineup.

So that’s, you know, this isn’t in the future anymore, we are making production decisions on smart stacks in the next few weeks. So it’s all getting really close. Your question on Rohm & Haas, to the best of my knowledge it’s a chemical. So there’s a difference I think between seed programmed genetic information in the seed that starts literally the day the seed starts growing and a chemical that you apply at a latter stage. You know the analogy I would apply, it’s a bit like a BT versus an old insecticide. So it’s the difference between control that lives inside the side that starts the day that the seed wakes up versus filling something in the sprayer tank and switching the engine on and driving out one morning. And so I think droughts are a huge market and I think there’s an opportunity for everybody in it. But our focus is going to be clearly on genetics rather than on chemicals.

Peter Butler – Glenhill Investments

Okay, hey thanks for the help.

Operator

And our next question comes from the line of Kevin McCarthy of Banc of America Securities, please proceed with your question.

Kevin McCarthy – Banc of America Securities

Yes, good morning. Hugh I’m wondering with regard to glyphosate herbicide, how much of the recent pricing strength we’ve witnessed do you attribute to simply scarcity of product versus a much higher value in use these days? The reason I ask is if I look at slide 6, your $1.8 billion gross profit forecast for 2012 is virtually flat with $1.7-$1.8 billion this year. I’m trying to get a sense of whether that’s simply conservative or if you foresee certain market circumstances where there could be a price decline in coming years?

Hugh Grant

Yeah, Kevin thanks for the questions, I think you know it’s interesting you say is $1.8 billion conservative because it was $1.2 in November, so some of this is unprecedented. We’ve seen two or three things happening simultaneously, one is an escalation in costs and genetic material coming out of China in particular escalating in cost and increasing scarcity, that’s the first thing. We’re seeing a price band now as Terry mentioned in the $16-$18 range and the US would be in the middle of that from a pricing point of view. So Brazil and the European markets would be priced higher and some of the Pacific Rim would be priced lower, so you see the US in the middle of that price band. I think a piece of this is scarcity.

And it’s interesting the demand has come up a little bit based on increased acreage of Roundup Ready crops and also $110 oil because where I’m guessing we’re going to see a resurgence or a renaissance in conservation tillage where growing things twice without running over a field two or three times cultivating when you can spray one or two times. So a piece of this is scarcity, a piece of it is cost particularly coming out of China. And I think the sub piece is demand as we see this new world of agriculture unfolding.

Kevin McCarthy – Banc of America Securities

And a follow up to that on your capacity expansion announced in Louisiana. When should we expect that to come online, how large might it be and if I look at the free cash flow forecast decline of $100 million, should I infer that about half of the $200 million cost will hit this year? How should we think about that?

Hugh Grant

I’ll let Terry take the cash flow piece. It will come on stream in 2010. It’s a de-bottlenecking project that touches multiple pieces of our Luling facility and we’ll build up some infrastructure as we’re doing this. It’s about a 20% increase in our capacity and it’s a piece of insuring that sustainability of $1.8 billion of sustainable GP through 2012. From a cash flow point of view Terry, a couple of words on that.

Terry Crews

While we’ve increased our overall cash flow expectations for the year given the growth of Roundup but relative to the capital spending for Roundup I would assume that somewhere in that $100 million range would be spent this year. We roughly will spend it this year and the bulk of it will be spent next year as well. But I just want to remind you that part of the capital spending increase for the year is a combination of Roundup as well as advancing some of the corn seed facilities that we’re going to need to meet demand coming off this season as well, so it’s a combination of both factors.

Kevin McCarthy – Banc of America Securities

Great, thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Vincent Andrews of Morgan Stanley, please proceed with your question.

Vincent Andrews – Morgan Stanley

Thank you, good morning everyone. Just if you could touch a little bit on what’s going on in corn, switch back to soybeans and so forth. I mean from a triple stack perspective I know you’ve increased the number that you expect to sell this year but are you sold out, is there any more to come, has that number been affected by the potential lower corn acreage?

Hugh Grant

I’ll take this in order but let me just start with, it’s a fascinating time of year, it’s almost became a tradition because you know USDA publishes these numbers and the only thing that’s dependable is that it’s going to be wrong most years. So the telephone survey the first week in March and the numbers come out this week and the fascinating thing is between the day that farmers were telephoned and the day that the numbers are declared you know soybeans have moved another $2.00, so there’s an arbitrage, $2.00 down, so there’s an arbitrage between corn and soy right up to the morning that the plan per rolls out in the [unintelligible].

I think if you’re a fertilizer company that’s a really, really big deal. From where we are sitting, the focus for us is to your point, how many acres of triple stacks that are going to sell, how many acres of share are we going to capture. And we’re obsessed with the numerator much more than we’re obsessed with the denominator. So I would say this, a million acre swing either way between corn and soy is $0.01 of EPS. So we’re chasing a much bigger picture than this, we’re chasing share and we’re chasing penetration inside that share. I think the fact that triple stacks are up in a theoretically compressed market is a real indication that growers are going to spend money on the best performing seed. And the good news is, if you’re still interested, we’re not sold out of triples yet.

Terry Crews

I would just add though, we have had more triple production in our winter nursery than we had anticipated as well but we’re not sold out yet.

Vincent Andrews – Morgan Stanley

Okay, thank you very much.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Mark Gulley of Soleil Securities, please proceed with your question.

Mark Gulley – Soleil Securities

Good morning. My question gets to the big increase in Roundup profitability gross profits this year. Hugh if I were to think of that as a bit of a windfall, how would you be redeploying that within the company in terms of how to advance other parts of your portfolio?

Hugh Grant

Thanks for the question Mark. So windfall sometimes suggests a onetime one year event and I think declaring this morning that we anticipate this being sustainable at $1.8 billion of gross profit over a number of years, it’s a sustained windfall. The way that we’ve been thinking and talking about this is, how do you take that cash and reinvest it in higher margin longer term opportunities and I think you know it’s not the only one but I think a great example of that is the De Ruiter investment where we take this cash, we reinvest it in our protected culture seeds that has margins at the gross profit level running in the 80% range.

And I think from a sustainability point of view and long term growth, that’s a nice way to take profit and we invest it in the business. And then as Terry mentioned in his comments, we are reexamining repatriating cash to our owners through buybacks and dividends as well. But I think what we’ve been talking about for five years and investing in lucrative seed spaces, investing in new technologies and returning cash to shareowners is exactly the [compinion] strategy.

Mark Gulley – Soleil Securities

And then on the fiscal 2012, I want to make sure I understand what the increase is, it appears as if your increase in gross profits from the November investor day to today is in the order of $0.5 billion. As I read the charts as I listen to what Terry had to say, can you help us out there?

Terry Crews

Let me make sure that we get that communicate clearly, what we said at this point right now is you know our message is we believe the $600 million growth that we’ve seen in Roundup will be sustainable through this period, so in 2012 we’ve increased our gross profit objectives by $600 million for Roundup. What we said relative to our seeds and traits is that we’re really pleased with what we see today.

We think this year sets a good benchmark for us for next year. We’re going to wait until we get through the US season and reassess where we think seeds and traits could be in 2012 and we’ll update everyone on that post the end of the US season. So we really haven’t made a change yet as it relates to seeds and traits, we’d like to get through the US season but we are just giving an affirmation to everyone that we expect that the Roundup profit will be sustained at a level $600 million higher than we originally anticipated.

Mark Gulley – Soleil Securities

Thanks for the clarification.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Bob Koort of Goldman Sachs, please proceed with your question.

Bob Koort – Goldman Sachs

Thanks very much, good morning. Hugh was wondering if you could talk a little bit about in South America you mentioned an acceleration of commercialization there and the ability to get similar pricing. What kind of trait fee sharing will you experience there relative to the US? And then when you bring in Roundup Ready 2 and smart stacks particularly in the US, do you have some kind of preferred buyers club or how do you determine access to that technology for your customer based? Who gets it first?

Hugh Grant

Let me start with the second piece first Bob. So in the US there will be no preferred club, so the first year of volume is going to be limited and we’re, not in the US and Roundup Ready to Yield. So the second piece first. Volume we’ve limited in our initial year launch so we talked today about 1-2 million acres and then we’ll ramp that to near 5-6 in the second year. And it will be spread across a bunch of different varieties. I think the difference between this and 1990’s sex is in 96 we were limited in the number of varieties and the number of zones, this will be a broader launch but we’ll be obviously limited in volume in the first couple of years. But I think the performance based on this year’s trial results, the performance is going to speak for itself. And then the first piece, can you give me your first question again?

Bob Koort – Goldman Sachs

I was wondering if the selling mechanism in South America will alter the traditional sharing of the fees with your retailers in South America versus the US.

Hugh Grant

No it won’t, I don’t anticipate that it will. I mean the good news down there is we’re after ten, well more than ten, I was going to ten, it’s 12 plus long years, we’re now beginning to see biotech reach in the farm and it’s exactly the right time when you look at the increased demand on commodities. I think the really big news down there is on the development in the long run of the combination Roundup Ready to Yield by BT product. And that I think represents a tremendous opportunity in the long term.

Terry Crews

Bob I think the best barometer is Argentina right now. If you look at Argentina where we’re already selling traits, it will be very similar to the US. We haven’t decided yet where we’re pricing on Brazil but we shared with you the values, there’s some comparable values in terms of value in Brazil to the grower versus compared to value in the US.

Hugh Grant

And then frank, you know, very intense bug populations down there. It’s warm and it rains at the right time so insect pressure is a big deal in these countries.

Bob Koort – Goldman Sachs

Great, thank you.

Scarlett Foster

Okay we’re a little bit over but we have time for three more quick questions if we could please.

Operator

Thank you very much, our next question comes from the line of Chris Shaw of UBS, please proceed with your question.

Chris Shaw – UBS

Hey, good morning, how are you doing? Just kind of following up on Jeff Zekauskas’ question about the growth in corn revenues, I understood there was probably a lot of pre-ordering based on some orders not getting filled last year and special offers and there’s just generally, I guess people are buying stuff in advance, price increases on everything, fertilizers, herbicides, whatever this year. So how do you, does that influence the second quarter sales growth in corn or does revenue recognition take care of that and it parses it out to the second and third quarters?

Terry Crews

I think Chris we probably need to separate pre-order versus shipping because that’s, they’re two different things. When things are pre-ordered and sometimes even pre-paid, they still don’t become sales until shipping and shipping patterns are pretty similar. What we are seeing this year is more technology component in their second quarter, so there is a technology lift in the second quarter because technology continues to grow as a part of our overall corn business. So there’s definitely some pre-ordering and some pre-paying that’s higher than normal in the seed business. Shipping patterns have been quite similar, but technology is lifted in the second quarter versus last year, we saw a little bit more of that in the third quarter.

Chris Shaw – UBS

So you have. they’re pre-paying, you’re not recognizing it until you deliver it?

Terry Crews

We don’t recognize it until we ship it, that’s correct.

Hugh Grant

So what you’re seeing is a demand effect and I think the fact that triples are up year on year even in a down market for corn speaks to demand more than shipping patterns [adalay] order.

Chris Shaw – UBS

Okay, thank you.

Operator

Our next question comes from the line of Dawn Carson, please proceed with your question.

Don Carson – Merrill Lynch

Thank you. Here you’ve talked a couple times about how as you look forward to 2012 you know you expect consistent growth irrespective of commodity price swings or fluctuations in planted acres. And you know yet a sizable portion of the market sort of wonders how you can grow if corn prices were to pull back or acreage be down. So what do you think people are missing in terms of that disconnect between commodity prices and your growth objectives?

Hugh Grant

Yeah, thanks for the question. I think and it’s really hard to talk about this because we see these fluctuations today and the stampedes that are occurring but the reality is whether you’re farming here in the Midwest or you’re farming outside Sal Paulo, on finite fixed acres, a farmer’s whole focus is on optimizing yield. And whether corn is $5.00 or $3.00, he is always going to reach for the best possible seed available to optimize yield on fixed acres. Whether that’s mitigation or trying to blow the doors off in a high price year, so we have seen that we are traded out a lot less than many other variable costs in down years.

So as long, the key for us and the deal I think, the contract that we have with the grower is that we deliver the best possible technology that yields the highest possible outcome on his farm irrespective of commodity prices. And if we fulfill that, if we deliver on that contract then we will win disproportionately versus our competitors. And to the earlier questions Don on the market dynamics in corn, the fact that triple stacks are up in a contracted corn market I really think speaks volumes to that. So we are not recession proof but we are traded out a lot later in the game than many other variable costs on the farm. And that’s why I think as we look to 2012 and we’ve done a lot of work on this, that’s why I think that these growth rates are achievable and sustainable because they move independent of the vagaries of the commodity cycle.

Don Carson – Merrill Lynch

Thank you, when you say you’re not traded out, so you don’t have as much volume risk but is there still price risk there, say if corn is $3.00 instead of $5.00 or do you still think that your value capture right now is low enough that you won’t have to move your pricing back down even at say $3.00 corn?

Hugh Grant

I think the famer makes that decision every spring at the kitchen table and I think that as long as we continue to deliver incremental value and improved yields through our germplasm, just as much as through our biotechnology, then we’re sharing that price and sharing that value with the grower and that’s a fair deal. So I don’t see a retreat as long as we continue advanced technology.

Don Carson – Merrill Lynch

Okay, thank you.

Scarlett Foster

And Jose if we could take the last question please.

Operator

Yes, our last question comes from the line of Laurence Alexander of Jefferies & Co., please proceed with your question.

Analyst for Laurence Alexander – Jefferies & Co.

Hi, this is Lucy Watson speaking for Laurence. I just had a question regarding phosphate. Does the tight demand supply balance in the phosphate market give Monsanto an incentive to vertically integrate in other regions besides the US?

Hugh Grant

Thanks for the question. Just very briefly because I know there’s been a lot of speculation in this, we mine phosphorous here in the US, we’re probably the biggest elemental miner of phosphorous in the world and every gallon of Roundup has got a handful of phosphorous in it. So we believe we have a cost advantage versus a number of our competitors because we’re fully integrated today in phosphorous extraction and production and then we ship that phosphorous to our production facilities in Luling in Louisiana and also in Brazil. So I think we have a unique cost position and we are integrated today and I see that entirely independent of some of the discussions that are going on at the moment with the fertilizer industry. So we’re focused on our own business and we’re focused on supplying weed control [unintelligible].

And maybe just on that and in respect to your time and the very large number of people on the call today, let me just wrap this up. And to tie it back to Don’s question, we really, really are looking out to 2012 and we recognize that the decisions that we are making in fact some of the decisions that we make in the course of the next month help to provide that line of sight towards 2012. In fact, between now and planting we will finalize our production plans to set the stage for the size of our first mover advantage that we’ll have with Roundup Ready to Yield soybeans. We’ll finalize our production and pricing for the triple stack availability next year and that in turn sets the stage for the bulk up of seed that we need for our high impact launch of Smart Stacks the following year. And we’re about to plant I think the largest R&D fuel trial program in our history and seed breathing and in biotech traits that will give us more data and more pipeline candidates to fuel our next decade’s worth of growth. So as I mentioned in my earlier comments, we know absolutely that our advantages are in our innovation.

We’ve created value based on long term trends, not on short term cycles. And that and the decisions that I’ve just mentioned are our advantage. That’s our competitive edge. And I think you’ll see how that plays out, Monsanto will introduce on average a new game changing technology from Roundup Ready to Yield to drought tolerance every other year through the middle of the next decade. So I believe very heartily that our strategy is accelerating, our opportunities are great and we do control our own destiny and that we’re committed to delivering what we’ve promised. So I’m really pleased that you joined us today and I look forward to reporting back to you on our continued progress as the spring season plays out in the Northern Hemisphere. Thanks very much for your time today.

Operator

Ladies and gentlemen, that does conclude the conference call today, we thank you for your participation and ask that you please disconnect your line.

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Source: Monsanto Company F2Q08 (Qtr End 02/29/08) Earnings Call Transcript
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