The world's biggest agrochemicals group, Syngenta, says sales have got off to a slow start in 2001, after revealing profits for 2000 in line with expectations.
The Swiss-based group was formed in November from the merger of the agribusinesses of Switzerland's Novartis and Britain's AstraZeneca.
Shares on the Swiss stock exchange dropped 4.5 per cent at one point in early trading on Monday after the disappointing sales announcement was made. However, prices rallied later in the day.
Pre-tax earnings for 2000 rose as expected by 19 per cent to $450 million (SFr765 million).
However, chief executive Michael Pragnell said sales in the first few months of the year were down on 2000, reflecting depressed commodity prices, bad weather and a lack of confidence in Europe following the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.
"Whereas a year ago there was great confidence, particularly in the distribution channel, that agricultural markets were on the turn, this year the distributors are being more cautious in their early buying," Pragnell explained.
"Agriculture is not feeling confident in a general sense."
Deutsche Bank chemical analyst, Campbell Gillies, said that while the first quarter would be weak, this could be compensated by a recovery in later quarters.
"We would expect America and Australasia to compensate for the various crises we are having in Europe," Gillies explained.
He said he was also heartened by Syngenta's ability to deliver on cost savings, saying the group was on target to save $90 million this year, after making savings of $100 million last year.
swissinfo with agencies