Commodities & Metals

Fertilizer Maker Makes Hay on Nitrogen (AGU, CF, POT, MOS, MON)

Getting any respect in the fertilizer business has been pretty tough so far this year. We’ll have to wait about an hour or so this morning to see if Agrium Corp. (NYSE: AGU) can defy history. The company reported first quarter results this morning, posting adjusted EPS of $1.32 on revenues of $3.63 billion. Analysts were expecting EPS of $0.99 on revenue of $2.98 billion.

Agrium attributed its increased sales to higher volumes and higher prices for nitrogen. Last week, CF Industries Holdings Inc. (NYSE: CF) also blasted through estimates, but the company’s best seller was also its nitrogen products. Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. (NYSE: POT) missed earnings estimates on lower potash sales and margins (gross margins fell -56% year-over-year). The Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS) also missed on earnings as potash volumes fell and phosphate costs rose. Monsanto Co. (NYSE: MON) pounded EPS estimates, but analysts believe that sales were all pulled forward due to the warm weather.

Agrium and CF are less dependent on potash and phosphates than are the others, and the rise in nitrogen is directly related to its ability to boost yields on the same amount of acreage. Potash fertilizer is needed to ensure healthy plants, but its contribution yields is less important.

Whether demand for nitrogen will continue through the Northern Hemisphere’s growing season remains to be seen, but as more people demand more food on the same amount of acreage, sales and margins on nitrogen are likely to keep pace.

The catch in Agrium’s results is that the company’s first half adjusted EPS guidance is a relatively weak $5.50-$6.10. Analysts had been expecting $5.67 before today’s blowout number. Investors are likely to interpret the lowish guidance as an indication that Agrium’s sales were also pulled forward into the first quarter.

Shares of Agrium are trading up about 0.13% at $84.68 in a 52-week range of $60.15-$93.49.

Paul Ausick