U.S. Markets

Potash Corp's profit beats on higher potash sales; outlook misses

(Reuters) - Potash Corp of Saskatchewan POT.TOPOT.N, the world's biggest fertilizer company by market capitalization, reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit on strong potash sales, but its 2015 outlook disappointed.

Potash Corp sold 2.5 million tonnes of potash, the most ever in a fourth quarter and up 42 percent 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 Company, but softer prices have stimulated demand.

“We saw a balance here, and part of the reason is affordability,” said Potash Corp Chief Executive 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 Ltd 0297.HK, Israel Chemicals ICL.TA, Jordan's Arab Potash Co Plc APOT.AM and Chile’s SQM SQMa.SN, with an eye toward taking control.

That review could take 12 months, Tilk said, adding that Potash Corp 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.

Potash Corp, the second-biggest potash producer after Russia's Uralkali OAO URKA.MM, 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 percent to $1.90 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.

Potash Corp’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.

Potash Corp 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 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, Potash sees earnings of 45 to 55 cents per share. Analysts were expecting 50 cents.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Sneha Banerjee in Bengaluru; editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Matthew Lewis