(Repeats with pictures slug, no change to text)
* Bulk hander hurt by lower east coast grain output
* Cheap oil, lower freight costs boost competitors
* CEO says challenging conditions look set to continue
By Colin Packham
SYDNEY, Nov 3 (Reuters) - GrainCorp Ltd, Australia’s largest listed bulk grain handler, said it expects to post its lowest net profit in seven years as dry weather curbs production along the country’s east coast, and sees no early let up in difficult conditions.
GrainCorp on Tuesday forecast a net profit of A$32 million ($22.9 million) when it reports its 2015 annual results on Nov. 12, down from A$50.3 million last year, and below analysts’ forecasts of about A$54 million according to Reuters Estimates.
The result would be the company’s weakest since it posted a loss of A$19.9 million in 2008, with strong competition from the Black Sea region also eating into earnings.
“Lower grain production in eastern Australia resulted in intense competition to originate grain, while bigger crops and stock levels in other regions also generated strong competition from alternative supply origins,” said Graincorp chief executive Mark Palmquist.
“This situation was exacerbated by lower fuel costs and ocean freight rates, which reduced Australia’s freight advantage to major export destinations.”
Palmquist acknowledged that the headwinds that have affected GrainCorp’s competitiveness may continue into the 2016 season.
“Each year is different, but we do have some of the same conditions on the front-end [of the season] - crop size does not look like it is going to be too different and freight spreads are going to be narrow,” he said.
An El Nino weather event has brought drier conditions to much of Australia’s east coast in recent months, which may lessen available supplies for GrainCorp next year.
Australia’s grain export fortunes may ultimately rely on the prospects of its competitors, analysts said. Should major exporters also suffer supply concerns - Australia may arrest the side in its competitiveness.
The difficult outlook will fuel speculation over the intentions of GrainCorp’s largest shareholder Archer Daniels Midland Co, whose A$2.8 billion bid for Graincorp was rejected by the Australian government in 2013 on national interest grounds.
Local media reported last week that ADM’s stake of nearly 20 percent may be up for sale, but Palmquist said he had not been informed by ADM of any intention to change it holding.
Shares in GrainCorp hit a five-month high in October after Malcolm Turnbull was installed as the country’s prime minister, stirring speculation that Australia may change it stance on an ADM takeover.
GrainCorp shares fell as much as 6 percent on Tuesday but recovered to be down just 0.7 percent at 0205 GMT at A$8.83.
It forecast an underlying 2015 net profit at A$45 million and said it expected EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) of A$235 million.
$1 = 1.3996 Australian dollars Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Richard Pullin