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UPDATE 2-Cargill profit jumps on beef demand, better grain margins

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By Karl Plume

Oct 4 Global commodities trader Cargill Inc reported a sharply higher quarterly net profit on Tuesday, helped by rising beef demand and stronger grain trading and processing margins.

The privately held company's net income rose 66 percent to $852 million in the first quarter ended Aug. 31 from $512 million a year earlier.

Excluding items, Minnesota-based Cargill's operating profit rose to $827 million from $611 million. Revenue fell marginally to $27.1 billion from $27.5 billion.

The strong results came despite warnings earlier this year from Cargill and some agribusiness rivals that weak commodities prices and oversupplied grain markets would create headwinds for agricultural traders.

Grain prices have recently touched multi-year lows and U.S. farmers have begun harvesting what are expected to be record-large corn and soybean crops this fall.

Rival agribusiness Louis Dreyfus last week reported a small rise in 2016 first-half net profit, but cautioned that commodities markets remain difficult.

Bunge Ltd and Archer Daniels Midland Co will report results in about a month.

Cargill is in the midst of a restructuring that has included the shedding of assets such as its U.S. pork business and U.S. retail agriculture outlets and the expansion of investments in food ingredients and aquaculture. The moves are part of a long-term strategy for the 151-year-old company to bolster margins and become more responsive to commodities market swings.

"We've been charting a new path to higher performance, and it's rewarding to see the many changes we've made resulting in gains across much of the company," Chief Executive David MacLennan said.

Cargill's animal nutrition and protein segment saw earnings rise sharply from a year earlier as the company's beef business benefited from rising demand and low cattle costs due to an expanding North American herd.

Earnings rose moderately in the company's origination and processing business, which buys, sells, stores and processes crops such as corn and soybeans, as soybean processing margins improved, the company said.

Cargill's profit was also helped by improved earnings from starches, sweeteners and edible oils. (Additional reporting by Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ted Kerr and Meredith Mazzilli)

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