November 21, 2018 / 11:42 AM / 19 days ago

Deere outlook for 2019 disappoints amid trade war, slowing demand

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Deere & Co gave an underwhelming earnings forecast on Wednesday for fiscal 2019 after missing quarterly profit estimates amid a U.S. trade battle with China that has depressed U.S. farm commodity prices and hurt agriculture equipment demand.

The Moline, Illinois-based tractor maker expects net income of about $3.6 billion in 2019. That would translate into earnings of $11.10 per share, compared with the average analyst estimate of $11.47, according to Refinitiv data.

Equipment sales for the world’s largest tractor manufacturer are estimated to grow 7 percent on the year in 2019 compared with a 29 percent jump in fiscal 2018, which ended Oct. 28.

Still, the company’s shares opened higher as investors cheered the projected improvements in gross margins as well as the forecast for a flat to 5 percent increase in industry sales of agricultural equipment next year in North America, its biggest market. Industry sales for farm machines were estimated to have grown 10 percent this year.

“We would argue the FY19 guidance big picture is better than headlines imply,” analysts at Baird Equity Research wrote in a note.

Shares surged 3.8 percent to $143.80 in morning trading.

Deere reported an adjusted profit in the fourth quarter through Oct. 28 of $2.30 per share, lower than Refinitiv’s estimates for $2.45, as equipment sales growth halved to 18 percent from the previous quarter. The company had forecast sales growth of 21 percent for the quarter.

The slowdown was more pronounced outside the U.S. and Canada, where currency translation had a negative effect of 7 percent on sales during the quarter.

Agriculture and turf equipment sales rose 3 percent in the quarter, compared with 18 percent in the third quarter.

The U.S. trade showdown with China, one of the biggest export markets for U.S. agricultural products, is further squeezing American farmers whose incomes have been under a siege for the past four years amid a global grain glut.

Last year, China imported 32 million tons of soybeans from the United States. But this year, the country has not purchased any of the U.S. crop after Beijing slapped a 25 percent tariff on U.S. imports in July. The move was in retaliation for U.S. duties on Chinese goods, imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump.

FILE PHOTO: A John Deere sprayer sits in a popcorn field in Redkey, Indiana June 28, 2012. REUTERS/Brent Smith/File Photo

There has been growing concern that depressed bean prices could induce a significant switch of acreage into other crops next year, causing a supply glut that could, in turn, hurt the prices of other farm commodities.

On Wednesday, Deere moderated its previous expectations, projecting farm cash receipts to remain flat. It had earlier been hopeful that stronger demand for crops like corn, wheat and cotton would mitigate the impact of the trade battle and boost U.S. farm cash receipts in 2019.

Its global sales for agriculture and turf equipment are projected to rise 3 percent in 2019, significantly slower than a 15 percent year-on-year jump this year.

Reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Bernadette Baum

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