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UPDATE 1-Corteva sees 2021 profit above estimates on strong corn, soybean demand

(Compares with estimates, adds details on outlook, restructuring)

Feb 3 (Reuters) - Corteva Inc forecast 2021 core earnings above analysts’ estimates on Wednesday as sharp gains in prices of soybean and corn crops boost demand for the seed and pesticide maker’s products.

The company’s upbeat outlook comes just a couple of weeks after activist investor Starboard Value LP slammed Corteva’s weak financial performance and nominated eight directors to its board, seeking to oust its chief executive officer.

The company, which also posted a surprise fourth-quarter profit, said it expects more acres to be planted in North America in 2021 as multi-year high prices for corn and soybean have boosted farm incomes.

It forecast 2021 operating earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) of $2.4 billion to $2.5 billion, above the $2.35 billion figure expected by analysts, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

However, the company’s net sales forecast of about $14.5 billion fell short of expectations of $14.67 billion as it expects a $300 million hit from exiting some of its low-margin crop protection products.

The Wilmington, Delaware-based company also said it would lay off some employees and retire some assets to cut costs, resulting in an expected charge of $130 million to $170 million.

Net sales rose 8% in the fourth quarter on the back of strong demand for Corteva’s Enlist and Arylex herbicides and Isoclast insecticide, as well as higher prices for its crop-protection products in Latin America.

Sales of the company’s crop-protection products rose 13%, while seed sales were flat as higher volumes were offset by a weaker Brazilian Real.

Operating earnings came in at 4 cents per share, while analysts had estimated a 5-cent loss.

Corteva’s shares were up 2.7% in extended trading. (Reporting by Rithika Krishna and Arathy S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Aditya Soni)

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