Los Angeles Business Journal

Ceres Plans Layoffs

By Business Journal Staff Friday, October 18, 2013

Energy crop company Ceres Inc. will lay off 17 workers and terminate the employment of a high-level executive, according to a Friday filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Thousand Oaks agricultural biotech develops genetically engineered seeds, with a focus on sweet sorghum. The crop harvested from those seeds is refined into ethanol, a fuel used in vehicles.

It announced the layoffs, part of a larger plan to reduce costs, will be substantially completed by May 31. Ceres expects to deliver cash savings of up to $5 million in fiscal 2014 and up to about $10 million annually thereafter.

The company also said that Michael Stephenson, its vice president of operations, will leave the company on Jan. 10.

Pavel Molchanov, an analyst that covers the company for St. Petersburg, Fla. brokerage Raymond James & Associates Inc., told the Business Journal he was not surprised by the layoffs.

“The company needs to conserve cash,” he said. “Company’s that are in start-up mode often times have a tendency to over hirer on the expectation that the business will take off. Clearly, in the case of Ceres, the company has not taken off the way they had hoped.”

Molchanov noted the company reported about 96 employees in a November 2012 filing, so the layoffs represent about 20 percent of its U.S. workforce.

Ceres has struggled since going public.

The company was listed on the Nasdaq in a $65 million initial offering completed February 2012. Since then, its two full seasons of planting in Brazil haven’t lived up to expectations.

The company has yet to post a profit and in its second quarter report in July, Ceres' loss widened by nearly $1 million to $9.3 million on revenue of just $1.4 million. In total, it has lost about $60 million since its IPO.

Ceres did not return calls or emails seeking comment.