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For at least the next 40 years, major U.S. potash-producing companies like Mosaic (NYSE: MOS ) , Potash Corporation (NYSE: POT ) , Intrepid Potash (NYSE: IPI ) , and Agrium (NYSE: AGU ) are poised to grow due to an increasing African demand for meat. In fact, by 2050 Africa will be demanding somewhere near 34.8 million metric tons of meat, compared to its demand of 10.5 million metric tons in 2007, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations . In short, when the demand for meat increases, so does the demand for potash, which fertilizes the crops needed to feed cattle, among other things.
An erroneous first-world conception of third world countries is that of diet: When thinking of Africa, many still assume the cuisine of vegetables, beans, and lentils. However, an average rural African diet currently consists of anywhere between 40% and 80% meat . Moreover, this demand has a projected growth rate of 2.2% per year , which means big revenue for cattle-producing farms, and subsequently potash-producing companies.
Barriers to potash companies
There are two primary obstacles between these companies and long-term sustainability. The first involves the competition of Russia's Uralkali and Canada's Canpotex, Ltd., both of which boast the world's largest potash providers. Within the past year, these two powerhouses essentially determined the price of potash due to their dominant stakes in the world's major reserves. Then, Uralkali broke up a murky partnership with Belarus, a business partner in the potash industry, over the summer. As a result, the market price of potash dropped and has been up for determination since the company's unwillingness to compromise on deals, the result of its stubborn desire for greater market control. That said, the obvious barrier for the American-based potash companies rests in their inability to significantly influence the price of the commodity, which could potentially leave them at the mercy of other companies moving forward.
The second obstacle relates to the United States' current foreign and domestic uses of potash. According to the Fertilizer Institute, the US imports the bulk of its potash from foreign nations ; of that bulk, a hefty 91% of it comes from Canada alone, followed by 6% from Russia .
Why Potash, Mosaic, Agrium will still flourish
In response to the barrier of Uralkali, investors should know that its current instability, alongside its relatively small influence in America (albeit its global influence) makes the company a non-factor to American farms. In fact, US potash companies are already flourishing from Uralkali's current instability, with Mosaic, Potash Corp., and Agrium recently rising on Uralkali moves .
Moreover, of the four primary US potash corporations, three operate significant bases in Canada, from whom American farmers receive the vast majority of their potash. While Canpotex remains the world's most dominant potash company (pending Uralkali's current disposition), Potash Corp., Mosaic, and Agrium still comprise 38% of the world's global reserves, according to Bloomberg . Because potash is a limited resource, unless fertilizers change moving forward, don't expect these companies to get the boot from increasing competition. As such, we expect Potash Corp., Mosaic, and Agrium especially to flourish in the potash market moving forward. Particularly, Potash Corp. seems at the greatest point of advantage, considering its primary base rests in Saskatchewan, versus the other US companies who still operate a significant number of reserves in the states.
The bottom line
When considering the continual growing need for potash and the strategic position of companies such as Potash Corp., Mosaic, Agrium, and Intrepid, the Foolish conclusion is one of domestic stability. Rural Africa demands more on a consistent basis, meaning these companies are poised for the long haul. Particularly, this writer thinks that Potash Corp. has the greatest advantage due to its superior Canadian leverage, and its comprising a significant portion of the world's reserves.
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