Leading chemicals and biotech seed developer Monsanto Co reported a higher fourth-quarter loss on Wednesday, though results slightly beat Wall Street estimates, as a downturn in its herbicide business ate into revenues.

The company warned last month that results would be hard hit by a slide in its Roundup herbicide business tied to tough competition from China, and a global glut of glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup.

Analysts said the Roundup downturn was well known and Wednesday's results held no surprises.

While the super spike they saw in Roundup was nice while it lasted, it is going to make for some nasty comparisons going forward, said Morningstar analyst Ben Johnson. The seeds business is really the long-term growth driver as a whole.

Monsanto reported a net loss of $233 million for the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $172 million in the same period last year.

The company reported a loss per share of 43 cents on an as-reported basis, compared to a loss of 31 cents a share a year ago. On an ongoing basis, the company reported earnings per share of 2 cents, compared to a loss of 3 cents a share a year earlier.

The results slightly beat estimates as analysts were looking for quarterly earnings on an ongoing basis of 1 cent a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Monsanto shares were up 1.5 percent at $76.75 in premarket trading.

Monsanto has been shifting its focus away from the herbicide business, which has been suffering from growing competition and price pressure, to its highly profitable seeds and traits business.

Company officials said Wednesday that net sales for the year hit a record $11.7 billion because of growth in global corn seed and genetic traits revenue, as well as increased soybean seed and traits revenue in the United States.

The company also said it was seeing revenue growth in its cotton seed and traits business in India and Australia.

Profits from seeds and genetic traits overall made up more than 65 percent of total company gross profit in 2009, up 17 percent rate over fiscal year 2008.

Monsanto also said during the quarter it made extraordinary cost reduction actions, and affirmed its full-year ongoing 2010 earnings guidance in the range of $3.10 to $3.30. Monsanto's full-year 2010 EPS guidance on an as-reported basis ranges from $2.85 to $3.11.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam, editing by Dave Zimmerman)