NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Through the first months of 2010, the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF(MOO) has been punished as a storm of bad earnings reports and sliding food prices pressures the fund below its 200-day moving average, but this slide may not be over.
At the close of 2009, MOO was lauded by many as the go-to fund for investors looking for a chance to play a fertilizer industry turnaround in 2010. At the time, the global economy was well on the road to recovery and growth forecast in China’s markets was seen as a catalyst for food demand. In order to keep hungry mouths fed, farmers would need to step up yields, providing the fertilizer industry with an ideal window for growth.
Agricultural chemical companies make up more than 45% of MOO’s total portfolio, and with Potash of Saskatchewan(POT) and Mosaic(MOS) in the top-10 holdings, MOO appeared well equipped for any such windfall.
Unfortunately the first months of the year have passed with no such boost. Although names including Terra Industries(TRA), CF Industries(CF), Bunge(BG) and Vale(VALE) grabbed headlines when M&A activity heated up early in the year, any benefits from their respective deals have long been wiped away as investors focus on debt issues coming to a head in the eurozone and economic tightening in China.
Rather than living up to the optimistic forecasts for the fertilizer industry, POT and MOS have tumbled 6% and 19%, respectively, in 2010. Once bright, MOO’s future is now clouded in uncertainty.
Economic troubles have dented food demand and good weather in some cases has lifted production, and that has sent crop prices, as tracked using the iPath Dow Jones-UBS Agriculture Total Return Subindex ETN(JJA), on a consistent downward slide since the start of the year. Year to date through May 18, JJA has dipped nearly 16%. JJA tracks a collection of agriculture futures products and the fund’s basket is largely steered by the prices of corn, wheat, and soybeans, which together account for two thirds of the fund’s portfolio. Coffee, cotton, sugar and soybean oil are represented in the remaining third of the fund.
Declining crop prices, however, tell only part of the story of MOO’s decline. In recent months, the equity-backed ETF has fallen faster than JJA, due to a barrage of bad news from some of the fund’s top positions.
The main driver leading the fund lower in recent months has been seed giant Monsanto(MON). Since the start of the year, the agricultural titan has tumbled 33%. The slice of MOO dedicated to the company has been decreased to 6.9% from nearly 8% in early April.
Monsanto’s rapid descent began in early January after the company released a poor first quarter earnings report marked by a $19 million loss and slowing sales. April’s second quarter report was not much better for the agricultural goliath. Not only did the firm see a drop in profit, but it also stepped away from its bold plan outlined in late 2007 to double its profit by 2012.
More recently, the firm has run into trouble with its weed killer, RoundUp. Weeds in fields have begun to show signs of resistance to the spray, forcing farmers to rely on more powerful herbicides and/or traditional weeding techniques, which threaten to nullify agricultural developments initially brought on by the development of RoundUp. Citing a weakened RoundUp unit, UBS cut its outlook for the firm at the start of this week.
MOO’s portfolio does have its bright spots, however. Agribusiness manufacturer Deere(DE) has managed to avoid a slide similar to Monsanto, Potash and Mosaic’s. So far this year the company has managed to rise nearly 10%. This rise should continue after Deere reported strong second quarter earnings.
Unfortunately for agriculture bulls hoping for some upside from MOO, a single company’s strong performance is not going to be enough to offset the pain caused by the last few months of bad news. For now, MOOve along.