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Fortunes Abruptly Turn for Agribusiness Giant Bunge

How quickly things can change. Just months ago, Bunge's prospects looked so rosy that the grain and fertilizer company went on a buying spree. It's biggest purchase, not yet approved, is of Corn Products International.

bungieSince June, when that deal was announced, prices of corn and soybeans have been cut in half, and the credit crisis has made capital less accessible to farmers (or at least has scared many of them off of major buying decisions).

Bunge on Thursday reported that its profits fell by 33 percent. "Current conditions in the global agribusiness market are clearly different than the extraordinary ones experienced in the first half of the year," said Alberto Weisser, Bunge's chairman and CEO.

But, he said, the current conditions will be "short lived" because the "basic fundamentals of our industry remain intact and should generate compelling growth for companies with global asset networks and broad product offerings."

Unless things get really bad, that's probably true. The underlying economics of grain markets â€" burgeoning demand from developing nations and from grain-based fuel â€" are still in place. The problem is, it's impossible to know when a turnaround might come.

Farmers actually have better access to capital than most industries, thanks to the fact that they generally borrow from regional and local banks, which are still well-capitalized in general. They also have access to the U.S. Farm Credit System, which was recapitalized before the recent crisis hit.

Still, Bunge has to be careful going forward. It promises that the $4.8 billion acquisition of Corn Products International will go through, but it also delayed the shareholder vote on the deal from November until December.

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