US food and agribusiness Bunge has reported a 40% increase in first-quarter net income, despite lower sales.

The company posted net income of US$98m, or 82 cents per share, for the first quarter to 31 March, compared to $70m, or 65 cents per share, in the corresponding period of last year. Net sales slid 5% to $5.45bn from $5.74bn a year earlier, although volumes increased 13%.

"We are pleased with our results this quarter and feel they provide us with good momentum as we start 2005," said Alberto Weisser, Bunge's chairman and chief executive officer.

"Demand for Bunge's core products remains strong. Global soymeal demand for the year is expected to top 136 million tons, a 6% increase over last year. Rising meat production is helping to drive this growth. Global vegetable oil demand is expected to rise by over 7% compared to last year to 106 million tons. Strong rapeseed crush margins in the European Union reflect rising demand for biodiesel," he added.