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Picture: 123RF/perfectpixelshunter
Picture: 123RF/perfectpixelshunter

Shares of Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) slid 22% on Monday, the steepest drop in decades, after CFO Vikram Luthar was placed on administrative leave as the company investigates accounting practices at its Nutrition segment.

The global grains merchant cut its 2023 profit forecast and said its fourth-quarter results would be delayed due to the investigation related to certain inter-segment transactions, in response to a voluntary document request by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The probe brings more uncertainty to ADM’s high-margin Nutrition segment, which is under pressure due to weak demand for meat alternatives and other products as well as downtime at a large soy processing facility.

The SEC did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. ADM said it is co-operating with the SEC.

ADM’s stock was last down to $53.03, its lowest level since February 2021.

Luthar joined ADM nearly two decades ago, serving in various leadership roles before being appointed CFO in 2022.

The company posted a string of record earnings due to favourable crop processing margins and strong demand for food, animal feed and biofuel. The Nutrition segment, however, has not performed well in recent quarters.

The segment supplies ingredients including plant-based proteins, natural flavours, emulsifiers to food, beverage and nutritional supplements industries, among other products.

Recent large investments in animal feed and pet nutrition have also not lived up to expectations, analysts said.

At least four brokerages downgraded ADM’s stock after the SEC request, and the company cut its adjusted earnings forecast to $6.90 per share for the fiscal year to end-December 2023, from an “excess of $7 a share” earlier.

“First and foremost, understanding the true scope of potential accounting irregularities and their impact on Nutrition segment revenues/margins will be critical,” said Goldman Sachs analyst Adam Samuelson.

ADM, one of the largest grain traders and processors in the world, has been growing its flavours and nutrition business, aiming to better shield itself from commodity price volatility.

It first acquired WILD Flavours in 2014 for $3bn and most recently, towards the end of 2023, said it would buy UK-based flavour and ingredient firm FDL.

“If (the) issue is just transfer pricing (tax avoidance), it shouldn’t change 2024 EPS outlook. ADM likely can continue buybacks and close recent acquisitions despite investigation,” said analysts at BMO.

Until investors have more clarity as to what exactly went wrong with ADM’s nutrition segment accounting, UBS analysts said traders could turn to shares of Darling Ingredients and rival grain merchant Bunge Global.

ADM appointed Ismael Roig, who has been with the company since 2004, as its interim CFO.

Reuters 

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