November 13, 2019 / 11:32 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 2-Australia's GrainCorp slides to biggest loss since 1998 as drought shrivels output

* Warns of tougher crop outlook for 2020

* Net FY loss of A$113 min is worst since listing

* Skips final dividend for first time in decade

* But shares up 3.8% on relief rally - analyst (Adds details, share movement, analyst comment)

By Shriya Ramakrishnan

Nov 14 (Reuters) - Australian bulk grain handler GrainCorp on Thursday warned of an even weaker crop outlook for 2020, after the drought that has ravaged farms across the country’s east coast slashed output and pushed it to its biggest loss since 1998.

GrainCorp’s warning, echoing those of firms like pesticides and crop seeds maker Nufarm Ltd and dairy produce supplier Bega Cheese, comes as wild bushfires plague the region. After three years of extreme drought, the east coast is now forecast to swelter through at least three more months of dry and hotter-than-normal conditions.

The company had previously said it would lose money for the year ended Sept. 30, and on Thursday reported a net loss of A$113 million ($77.5 million), versus a profit of A$71 million a year ago. The result is GrainCorp’s worst since listing.

But its shares rose, with analysts saying investors had been braced for even tougher news and numbers. By 0229 GMT, GrainCorp was up 3.8% while the benchmark index was 0.6% higher.

In a statement, the company said, “We expect low levels of grain carry-in in eastern Australia and a continuation of supply deficits in certain regions due to the drought.” It also said it wouldn’t pay a dividend for the year - the first time in a decade it has withheld a final payout.

“I think there is a bit of relief that things could have been worse, and the outlook could have been worse given the ongoing drought,” said Henry Jennings, senior analyst and portfolio manager at Marcustoday Financial Newsletter said.

GrainCorp also forecast that the winter crop in the financial year end September 2020 would be below average in Western and South Australia.

But offering a silver lining, it said its malting business had increased sales during the year, and that it continued to expect solid demand for its malt and brewing ingredients.

The company is currently in the process of a demerger, separating grain processing from malting, as it seeks to create two agribusiness companies with more attractive prospects.

“If they do sell off or demerge their malt business, that will probably help the company as well,” said analyst Jennings, “and people want to get some exposure to the good side of the business by being long on the underlying shares.”

$1 = 1.4588 Australian dollars Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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