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Intrepid Potash (NYSE: IPI ) might not be enjoying as much attention as its larger counterparts, but a good showing in the first quarter despite a soft market certainly deserves attention. The company's numbers were impressive, unlike those of peers PotashCorp (NYSE: POT ) and Mosaic (NYSE: MOS ) .
With demand for potash rising, Intrepid could turn out to be one of the biggest winners this year. And there are other factors that suggest that the company has a solid future.
The outlook for the U.S. fertilizer market, where Intrepid sells almost all of the potash it produces, is extremely bullish for the year:
- PotashCorp expects this year's farm income in the U.S. to be at its second-highest level ever recorded, which means farmers are likely to spend more on nutrients. Acreage for major crops is also expected to be higher.
- Corn, which consumes the highest amount of nutrients, is being planted at a pace not seen in two decades, with stockpiles hitting an eight-year low in March. The USDA has predicted record U.S. corn plantations this year.
- Recently, Mosaic CEO Jim Prokopanko told Reuters how the company recently sold the same amount of potash in a single day as it had sold in the whole of January, which is definitely a sign of a pickup in demand.
- According to PotashCorp, the level of potassium in soil in some of the big potash-consuming U.S. states has declined in the past five years -- which means farmers would need to apply more potash in the future to maintain soil fertility.
Intrepid, being the largest potash producer in the U.S., should clearly benefit as the potash market rebounds. Moreover, Intrepid's average realized price of $526 per metric tonne for potash was also higher than the $497 PotashCorp earned in the first quarter. One reason could be the location advantage it enjoys: Since Intrepid sells most of its products in the U.S., it has transportation cost advantages over the likes of PotashCorp and Mosaic, which operate mainly from Saskatchewan and export most of their products.
Getting bigger by the day
That the long-term outlook is positive is also evident from the big expansions most producers are undertaking. PotashCorp is likely to complete most of its mine-expansion projects this year. Agrium (NYSE: AGU ) has started work on a mine at Saskatchewan that's expected to increase its annual potash production by nearly 50% once completed in 2014. A major chunk of Mosaic's capital expenditure too, is going toward its 5 million tonne potash expansion program.
With Intrepid, the story gets a little more interesting, as it's one of the few companies that use solar evaporation techniques for production. And it recently improved its position by obtaining approval (which was pending for a while) for its HB Solar Solution Mine. Intrepid has already started construction at the mine that will not only add 25% more capacity by 2015 but also help lower production costs considerably.
Intrepid is also adding compaction equipment to increase production of granular potash, something peer PotashCorp is investing in, too. Granular potash commands a price roughly 20% higher than standard potash.
The Foolish bottom line
Great numbers, favorable industry trends, and the fact that Intrepid is the biggest U.S. potash producer tell me this company is worth watching. Intrepid even supplies potash for industrial and animal feed purposes -- something not many others do.
I recommend adding not just Intrepid, but also its fellow fertilizer producers to your personalized stock Watchlist for daily updates, since what affects one can easily affect the others.