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Fertilizer Producers Harvest Big Profits
Friday April 4, 2:47 pm ET

Fertilizer Companies' Pricing Power Amid Tight Global Food Supplies Drive Strong Earnings

NEW YORK (AP) -- A surge in profits at a major potash and phosphate producer underscores how the fertilizer sector's pricing power is offsetting rising raw material costs -- and analysts say prices have nowhere to go but up.

Mosaic Co. said Friday its fiscal third-quarter profit jumped more than tenfold, easily beating analyst estimates. Prices it charged in the three months ended Feb. 29 for diammonium phosphate doubled, and prices it charges for potash soared by 50 percent.

Analysts said there was no reason to believe prices could not climb further.

"We haven't reached a price limit yet, and what we're seeing right now in the market is pretty sustainable for the next several years," Goldman Sachs analyst Edlain Rodriguez said.

"Those companies are in the sweet spot right now," he said. "People weren't expecting to see the level of prices we're seeing now. Demand is extremely strong because farmers on a global basis are trying to maximize yield. We don't know where the (upper price) limit is."

J.P. Morgan Securities analyst David Silver said the pricing power Mosaic displayed in the last quarter is a sector-wide phenomenon. He expects earnings from Mosaic peers Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan, Agrium Inc. and CF Industries Holdings Inc. to rise "in sympathy" with Mosaic.

The rising price of fertilizer is just one of many reasons global supplies of food are tightening. Food prices rose 4 percent in the U.S. last year, the highest rise since 1990, and are expected to climb as much again this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Wheat prices shot up Friday, a day after corn prices climbed to a record.

European Central Bank officials said Friday that high prices for oil and food pushed inflation to 3.5 percent in March, far above the ECB's guideline of 2 percent.

Besides surging demand, potash prices are climbing because there are limits to availability. CIBC World Markets analyst Jacob Bout met recently with Potash Corp. Chief Executive Bill Doyle, who said the potash market is so tight that it doesn't require demand from China, the world's main potash importer, in the first half of 2008, given strong demand from India, Brazil and Southeast Asia.

Source: Associated Press

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