1/24/97 -- 1:16 PM

Earns-Monsanto,0353


ST. LOUIS (AP) - Monsanto Co., the big chemical and drug maker, lost $410 million in the fourth quarter due to expenses of spinning off part of its chemicals business and making severance payments to laid off workers.

The loss, equivalent to 69 cents per share includes a charge of $500 million, after taxes.

Quarterly sales rose 4 percent to $2.20 billion from $2.11 billion in 1995.

Monsanto announced in December that it would spin off its traditional chemical operations and eliminate as many as 2,500 jobs as it focuses on agricultural products and biotechnology.

Without the charge, fourth-quarter income would have been $90 million, or 15 cents a share, compared with income of $80 million, or 13 cents a share, during the same period a year ago, the company said.

Earnings per share were slightly below analyst predictions of 16 cents and Monsanto stock dropped $1.25 to $37.25 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

In line with its strategy, Monsanto agreed in April to buy the plant technology assets of Agracetus, based in Middleton, Wis. It also took controlling interest in biotech company Calgene Inc., best known for its genetically engineered tomato, the Flavr Savr, which is designed to avoid becoming soft once it has been picked. Monsanto also invested in DeKalb Genetics Corp., a developer of genetically engineered grain crops, and Ecogen Inc., a pesticide maker, last year.

The company launched four new products created through biotechnology - Roundup Ready soybeans and canola, Bollgard insect-protected cotton and NewLeaf insect-protected potatoes. Its Searle drug division increased development spending for continuing human testing of celecoxib, a new drug for arthritis that doesn't upset the digestive system like many other painkillers.

For the year, net income was $385 million, or 64 cents a share, on sales of $9.26 billion compared with income of $739 million, or $1.27 a share, on sales of $8.96 billion in 1995.

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