By Karl Plume
(Reuters) - Global commodities trader Cargill Inc [CARG.UL] reported a much higher quarterly net profit on Thursday, citing strong demand for beef and poultry and solid U.S. grain exports even as robust grain production posed a challenge.
The privately held company, which is in the second year of a restructuring, said results were higher in each of its four business segments and revenue hit a two-year high.
"The structural improvements we've made, as well as favourable conditions in some markets, have yielded strong results," Chief Executive Officer David MacLennan said in a statement.
Expectations have been high for a wave of consolidation and partnering within the grain trading industry following a string of weak results by some companies.
Minnesota-based Cargill said net income rose to $347 million in the fourth quarter ended May 31 from $15 million a year earlier. Excluding special items, operating earnings came to $460 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $19 million.
Revenue rose 4 percent to $28.3 billion.
Agribusinesses like Cargill and rivals Archer Daniels Midland Co
However, low crop prices have also led to lower meat prices.
Cargill's profit from animal nutrition and protein rose for the fourth straight quarter on strong retail beef demand in North America and brisk exports. It was the largest contributor to quarterly earnings.
"In 2017, beef prices are lower than they were in 2016. That makes beef competitive relative to other proteins," Chief Financial Officer Marcel Smits told Reuters by phone. "Now that beef has become more accessible, consumers have taken a renewed interest and we see per capita consumption going up."
Cargill said it had invested $1 billion and made $700 million in divestitures as part of its restructuring.
Last month Cargill completed the sale of its petroleum business and agreed to sell its power and natural gas business to Australian investment bank Macquarie Group Ltd
(Additional reporting by Michael Hirtzer; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Von Ahn)
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