Syngenta Planting the Seed for a Double

06/22/2011 3:54 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

The hits just keep on coming in the agricultural sector.

Just days after fertilizer maker Agrium (AGU) raised its guidance for the first half of 2011, on better than expected prices and demand, Syngenta (SYT) said yesterday that rising demand for seeds and pesticides would help it double revenue from its main seed and crop-protection products to $17 billion in 2015, from $8.4 billion in 2010.

Syngenta’s projected 102% growth in that period would exceed the forecast for the sector as a whole.
Research company marketsandmarkets forecasts that the global agricultural-chemical market will grow to $223 billion in 2015, from $134 billion in 2010.

That’s a rather heady 66% growth rate, but it lags Syngenta’s figures because the company is forecasting that it will pick up market share from competitors in the sector over that period.

I’d call Syngenta’s forecast a stretch goal, but not as outlandish as it sounds. The company grew agrochemical sales by 11% and seed sales by 20% in the first quarter of 2011, for a total sales growth rate of 14%.

If the company could score a 14% annual growth rate until 2015, sales from its main seed and crop-protection products would hit $16.2 billion that year. Not that far from the company’s $17 billion forecast for that part of its business.

Syngenta is No. 1 or No. 2 in most of its target agrochemical markets. Growth in that part of the company’s business will be driven by expanding demand from emerging markets. (In 2010, about 50% of sales came from emerging economies.)

To get to its forecast, though, Syngenta will have to close the gap in seeds with market leaders DuPont (DD) and Monsanto (MON). (Read my most recent take on DuPont here.)

The company has been investing heavily in research and development. That’s one reason its seed business shows an average operating margin of just 1% over the last five years, versus the 18% operating margin at Monsanto.

Recent reports, though, suggest that this investment is paying off. Syngenta’s new stacked corn seeds show yields that are competitive to corn seeds from Monsanto and DuPont. (The one thing that worries me about this forecast is the effect of the strong Swiss franc on Syngenta’s competitive position, versus weak-dollar DuPont and Monsanto.)

Before the June 21 forecast—and the 3.8% gain that followed—it looked like shares of Syngenta were headed down to the stock’s 200-day moving average near $60. I’d be a buyer at that price.

A 12-month target of $72 seems reasonable.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this column in my personal portfolio. The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund (JUBAX), may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this column. The fund did own shares of DuPont and Syngenta as of the end of March. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of March, see the fund’s portfolio here.

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