* Potash Corp wants to buy at least a majority stake
* Canadian company not looking to cut production, jobs - CFO
* Potash Corp to put focus on volume, not price
* Potash Corp shares rise slightly
By Rod Nickel
Feb 26 Canadian fertilizer producer Potash Corp
of Saskatchewan says it is determined to buy most, if
not all, of ICL Israel Chemicals Ltd and that stiff
local opposition to such a takeover is based on unfounded fears.
Potash, the world's largest producer by capacity of its
namesake crop nutrient, is aiming to boost its 14 percent stake
in ICL Israel Chemicals, the world's sixth-largest potash
producer, to at least 51 percent and preferably 100 percent.
"The opposition you're seeing now is fear of the unknown,"
Potash Corp Chief Financial Officer Wayne Brownlee said on
Tuesday in remarks at BMO Capital Markets Global Metals and
Mining conference in Hollywood, Florida, that were distributed
The largest shareholder in ICL is the conglomerate Israel
Corp Ltd, which owns more than 52 percent, according
to Thomson Reuters data. The Israeli government holds a golden
share in ICL Israel Chemicals, giving it the authority to decide
on any takeover move on the company.
A spokesman for Israel Corp said there are no talks between
the companies currently because Potash Corp must first secure
approval from the government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
is trying to assemble a coalition government after January's
Brownlee said Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Potash Corp has
not been talking with stakeholders in ICL recently because of
Workers at Israel Chemicals have said they would hold
protests in coming weeks to try to prevent a deal, which they
fear will lead to layoffs.
Addressing those concerns on Tuesday, Brownlee said Potash
Corp is not interested in cutting production or employment
levels at ICL. He said its rationale is to become the "lowest
cost provider" of potash "to anywhere in the world".
Potash Corp does not want just to increase its stake in ICL
and remain a passive investor, Brownlee said.
Buying ICL, which has a market cap of nearly $17 billion,
would represent the largest foreign takeover of an Israeli
Shares of Potash Corp were up slightly in morning trading in
New York and Toronto. ICL shares dropped 2.5 percent in Tel
FOCUS ON VOLUME
Brownlee also said that Potash Corp's focus in general for
the next five years will be on building up potash sales volume.
"Right now the message is we're really seeking volume growth
as opposed to seeing price growth," Brownlee said. "That's our
key objective at this stage."
Canpotex Ltd, the offshore selling agency for Western
Canadian potash producers Potash Corp, Mosaic Co and
Agrium Inc, has long used its bargaining clout to drive
the highest price, and Potash Corp regularly idles its mines in
times of high supply or lower demand.
But key importers China and India bruised the earnings of
potash producers in the second half of 2012 by staying out of
the market altogether.
There also may be stiff competition coming from new potash
mines under construction in Western Canada by Germany's K+S AG
and BHP Billiton Plc, although BHP has not
yet given final approval to its project. To head off new
competitors, analysts have mused about the possible merits of
Canpotex switching to a volume emphasis.
Potash Corp spokesman Bill Johnson said Brownlee's comments
do not suggest a change in strategy as the company will continue
to match supply to demand. But he said the company has noted
that volume growth has been flat for five or six years and wants
to change that trend, with the company expanding its mines and
Mosaic Chief Executive Jim Prokopanko, speaking at the same
conference, said demand from India has been picking up lately,
and Canpotex could sell more than the 1.1 million tonnes of
potash in 2013 that its latest supply contract with India calls