US agribusiness giant Bunge has reported a 75% increase in quarterly net income, and raised its earnings guidance for 2004.

The company posted net income of US$70m, or 65 cents per share, for the first quarter to 31 March, compared to $40m, or 40 cents per share, in the same quarter of last year. Net sales increased 19% to $5.74bn, while volumes rose 4%.

"We are pleased with our strong performance in the first quarter of 2004. All three of our divisions performed well. The poor US harvest in 2003/2004 and revised expectations for the crop in South America resulted in soybean futures prices increasing to a level not seen in over 15 years. Our risk management skills successfully steered the company through these turbulent waters," said CEO Alberto Weisser.

In the company's food business, Weisser said integration had had a major benefit.

"Higher edible oil prices allowed us to capitalise on softseed inventories purchased at lower price levels during the previous harvest. Integration along the food chain from seed purchase to crushing, refining and bottling allowed us to capture this incremental profitability," he added.

The company says it expects a solid performance in 2004, with continued good performance in its food products division.

CFO Bill Wells said the company is raising its net income guidance for fiscal 2004 to between $320m and $340m, or $2.96 to $3.14 per share. For the second quarter of 2004, Bunge expects net income of between $80m and $90m, or 74 to 83 cents per share.