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(Adds CEO quote, adds details on oilseed crushing operations)
By Karl Plume and Arunima Kumar
May 4 (Reuters) - U.S. agricultural commodities trader Bunge Ltd on Tuesday said its first-quarter adjusted earnings more than tripled from a year ago as strong crop export demand and stout oilseed crushing margins bolstered its core agribusiness segment.
The St. Louis-based company also raised its full-year 2021 adjusted earnings outlook to about $7.50 per share from its earlier forecast of at least $6 per share as easing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions ignite more demand from food service customers and as biofuel production expands.
"COVID is still very much a factor in most parts of the world, especially in Brazil and India. ... In regions where restrictions are easing, we're seeing increased demand in pricing across the range of products as people begin to get back to regular life patterns," Chief Executive Greg Heckman said.
Bunge recorded a sixth straight quarterly profit increase as rising crop prices triggered active farmer sales in North America and Australia, boosting supplies for Bunge's core agribusiness unit to buy, sell and process.
The company is working on squeezing more production out of its existing oilseed crush and refining operations to capitalize on soaring vegetable oil demand from the rapidly growing renewable diesel sector, Heckman said.
Although some rivals have announced plans for new crush facilities, Heckman said Bunge would first need to be "comfortable with the long-term returns."
Bunge's results offered the latest glimpse at how the world's largest grain traders are emerging from pandemic lockdowns that triggered major shifts in food and fuel demand.
The results mirrored strong earnings last week from rival Archer Daniels Midland Co.
Bunge's adjusted net income available for common shareholders rose to $471 million, or $3.13 per share, in the first quarter, from $139 million, or 91 cents per share, a year earlier, and above an average analyst estimate of $1.54 a share, according to Refinitiv data.
The company's shared gained about 1.2 percent in morning trading on Wall Street.
(Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago and Arunima Kumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel, Will Dunham and Steve Orlofsky)