UPDATE 3-EuroChem buys K+S nitrogen fertiliser unit
* Reinforces K+S's focus on Potash and Salt
* Deal values unit at 140 mln euros
* K+S sees book profit of 70-80 mln euros
* Names Mark Roberts to board to head Salt division
FRANKFURT, May 8 (Reuters) - German potash miner K+S AG has agreed to sell its nitrogen fertiliser distribution business to Russia's EuroChem, reinforcing its focus on salt and potash mining.
The deal values the unit, which consists of a sales network that has drawn on supplies from K+S's former parent BASF , at 140 million euros ($181.9 million) and will bring a book profit of around 70-80 million euros, K+S said in a joint statement with EuroChem on Tuesday.
The deal caps a return to the company's mining roots by K+S Chief Executive Norbert Steiner, who reversed the diversification the company saw under his predecessor Ralf Bethke, now supervisory board chairman.
Russian investor Andrei Melnichenko, who controls EuroChem, has previously said he was keen to buy the unit after EuroChem in September bought most of BASF's nitrogen fertiliser plants, which exclusively supply K+S until 2014.
"Against the backdrop of the recently concluded sale of the fertiliser activities of BASF in Antwerp, the sale to EuroChem is the best option from the perspective of K+S," Steiner said.
BASF, which pioneered mass production of synthetic fertiliser in 1913, sold under competitive pressure from rivals in the Middle East such as Sabic, who use cheap access to natural gas to grow in the fertiliser market.
K+S had previously said it would probably sell the sales network because its competitor EuroChem was unlikely to need K+S's distribution services.
"K+S has so far had to buy nitrogen fertiliser for a contractually agreed price from BASF and to sell at volatile prices. This was not a high margin business. The fact that K+S can exit the contract before 2014 is a positive thing," said Jesko Mayer-Wegelin, an analyst at HSBC Trinkaus & Burkhardt.
As part of its bid to focus on salt and potash, K+S last year divested its garden fertiliser and potting soil unit Compo.
Its main business is based on mineral mining while the nitrogen fertiliser industry, where Norway's Yara is a major player, converts natural gas into fertiliser in a chemical process.
In a separate statement later on Tuesday, K+S said it had appointed Mark Roberts, currently CEO of its U.S. unit Morton Salt, to its executive board to run the Salt division, which had previously been presided over by Steiner.
K+S said the transaction, which is subject to approval by the EU, would likely close at the end of the second quarter.