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PotashCorp’s profit beats on higher potash sales

(Dave Bedard photo)

Reuters — PotashCorp, the world’s biggest fertilizer company by market capitalization, reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit on strong potash sales, but its 2015 outlook disappointed.

Saskatoon-based PotashCorp sold 2.5 million tonnes of potash, the most ever in a fourth quarter and up 42 per cent year over year. Its average realized potash price was $284 per tonne, up marginally from a year earlier.

Prices have been slow to recover since the breakup in mid-2013 of one of the world’s biggest potash traders, Belarusian Potash Co., but softer prices have stimulated demand.

“We saw a balance here, and part of the reason is affordability,” said Potash Corp CEO Jochen Tilk in an interview. “And we expect that to be the case this year.”

Tilk is reviewing equity stakes in China’s Sinofert Holdings, Israel Chemicals, Jordan’s Arab Potash Co. and Chile’s SQM, with an eye toward taking control.

That review could take 12 months, Tilk said, adding that PotashCorp has not spoken with the Israeli government.

Potash tried to buy control of Israel Chemicals under previous CEO Bill Doyle, but was rebuffed in 2013 by the Israeli government, which holds a golden share.

PotashCorp, the second-biggest potash producer after Russia’s Uralkali OAO, reported fourth-quarter profit of 49 cents per share, beating the average analyst estimate of 46 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue rose 23.4 per cent to $1.9 billion, exceeding the average estimate of $1.67 billion.

“I think all in all (Potash results) were pretty positive,” said Robert “Hap” Sneddon, president of portfolio management company CastleMoore Inc.

PotashCorp’s shares closed slightly higher in Toronto and weaker in New York.

The company late on Wednesday increased its dividend by 9 percent.

The outlook for 2015 was mixed.

PotashCorp expects global potash shipments to range between 58 million and 60 million tonnes in 2015, down from a record 61 million tonnes last year, partly due to weakening economic growth outside the United States.

Potash Corp expects to sell 9.2 million to 9.7 million tonnes of potash in 2015, up from 9.3 million last year.

The company expected full-year 2015 profit of $1.90 to $2.20 per share. The middle of that range, $2.05, fell short of analysts’ average profit estimate of $2.12.

For the first quarter, PotashCorp sees earnings of 45 to 55 cents per share. Analysts were expecting 50 cents.

Reporting for Reuters by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Sneha Banerjee in Bangalore.

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