Commodities & Metals

Demand for Grain to Lift Fertilizer Prices (MOS, POT, AGU, MON, CF, SYT, MOO)

Fertilizer maker The Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS) reported earnings for its first fiscal quarter of 2012 after markets closed yesterday, and the company posted earnings and revenues that were in-line or slightly better than the upbeat forecast it gave just a week ago. EPS came in a $1.17 on revenue of $3.1 billion. EPS grew by 75% year-over-year and revenues were up by 41%. Gross margins also rose, from 23% in the same period a year ago to 28% in the first quarter.

Mosaic gives the first indication of overall strength among the other fertilizer makers. Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Inc. (NYSE: POT) is expected to post EPS of $0.93 for the quarter ending this month, more than double its EPS of $0.44 in the same period a year ago. Agrium Inc. (NYSE: AGU) is expected to show EPS of $1.85 in same period, up from EPS of $0.37 a year ago. Analysts expect CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (NYSE: CF) to post EPS of $4.56 in the September quarter, up from $1.10 a year ago. Only Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) is expected to post an EPS loss of -$0.27 for the current quarter, largely due to weakness in sales and margins of its Roundup herbicide.

The demand for fertilizer, particularly potash, reflects an effort among the world’s farmers to increase yields as crop prices remain relatively high. Expectations for crop plantings in the 2012-2013 crop year indicate that global wheat acreage could rise to about 563 million acres in 2012, up 4% from last year, while corn plantings could rise to 94.3 million acres world-wide.

But even if acres planted don’t increase much, farmers everywhere are looking to increase yields. China, for example, plants nearly as many acres of corn as the US, but yields are just half as large. If the country’s farmers could increase their yields, the amount of corn China must import to feed its people would fall.  The country has also restricted consumption of corn for industrial purposes like sweeteners and ethanol.

In what could be a boost to seed makers like Monsanto and Syngenta AG (NYSE: SYT), China is also considering allowing the import of genetically modified seed even as it tests a domestically developed strain of corn seed. The country does allow import of genetically modified strains of corn for consumption.

Farmers chasing yield improvements are expected to be the driving force behind fertilizer makers’ growth. Mosaic received an average of $446/metric ton of potash in its first quarter, up from $331 in the same period a year ago. The company guided potash prices for the second quarter at $440-$465/metric ton. For its phosphate products, Mosaic received $576/metric ton in the first quarter, compared with $431 in the same period a year ago. Phosphate prices for the second quarter were guided at $600-$625/metric ton.

While farm prices remain high, fertilizer makers can raise prices and still maintain volume. Mosaic guided shipment levels for potash at 1.7-2.1 million metric tons for the second quarter, compared with shipments of 1.8 million metric tons in the first quarter. Shipments of phosphates are expected to rise to 3.1-3.5 million metric tons in the second quarter, compared with 3.2 million metric tons shipped in the first quarter.

The fertilizer business is strong now and looks to remain that way for the coming year.  Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (NYSE: MOO) is also up by more than 1% at $45.01 and its 52-week range is $43.00 to $57.93.

Paul Ausick

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