US agribusiness giant Bunge has reported a rise in fourth-quarter and full-year net income, despite poor soybean harvests in the US.

The company posted net income of US$100m, or 99 cents per share, for the fourth quarter to 31 December, compared to $97m, or 97 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Net sales were $6.36bn for the fourth quarter, compared to $4.64bn a year earlier.

For the full year to 31 December 2003, Bunge reported net income of $411m, or $4.07 per share, compared to $255m, or $2.64 per share, in the previous year. Net sales rose to $22.2bn from $13.9bn a year earlier.

"In many ways, 2003 was an exceptional year for Bunge. It was the first full year of combined operations with Cereol. Our focus ensured a smooth integration and the achievement of our targets for the acquisition," said chairman and CEO Alberto Weisser.

"At the same time, we have faced challenges like the strengthening of currencies in South America, and back-to-back small harvests in the United States. A poor US harvest in 2002/03 was followed by a 12% smaller harvest in 2003/04 - the smallest in seven years," Weisser continued.

He added that the harvest levels had put pressure on Bunge's North American and Western European soybean processing operations.

"As a result of changed harvest expectations and mad cow jitters in the United States, the commodity markets were more volatile than we have seen in years," Weisser said.