Market Data Paints Mixed Picture in Fertilizer Business

Fertilizer market data shows mixed results in potash and phosphate operations through the first two months of the second quarter for North American fertilizer producers

Jun 22, 2014 at 7:00AM

Potash Corp (NYSE:POT) released its monthly market data report for May this week. The report shows mixed results in potash operations through the first two months of the second quarter for the North American potash producers, which also include Mosaic (NYSE:MOS), Agrium (NYSE:AGU), Intrepid Potash (NYSE:IPI), and Compass Minerals (NYSE:CMP). While the supply and demand picture for U.S. phosphate producers is always tighter than it is for potash, the revenue picture is a bit more negative than expected so far in the current quarter.

Potash
Production continues to fall as producers try to get a handle on inventories. May production dropped 3% from the previous month and year over year is down 14%. It is having the desired effect as potash inventories are well below year-ago levels and 15% lower than the 5-year average as figure 1 shows.

May 2014 North American Potash Inventories

In my opinion, North American producers believe that lower inventories will help firm pricing. I recently penned a report entitled "Why a Uralkali & Belaruskali Reunion May Not Lift Potash Prices" that discussed potash price sensitivity.  Notably, through the first two months of the second quarter potash prices have risen by 5.1% as illustrated in figure 2.

Q2D Potash Phosphate Price Changes

The good news for both Intrepid Potash and Compass Minerals is that they price their specialty fertilizers at a premium off the major producers. However, despite their market positions as specialty fertilizer producers they are still subject to demand sensitivities in my opinion.

In May, domestic producers reported that potash sales were up 6% over the earlier month. However, domestic revenues remain down 3% year over year as figure 3 shows.

May 2014 North American Potash Sales

Potash export sales were another bright spot, up 5% year over year and 2% sequentially. However, export sales are generally at a significant discount to prices in North America.  In the first quarter, Potash Corp's average price received per metric ton in North America was $295 while the average price received for offshore sales was a more modest $217 per ton. Export sales volumes represented 57% of all potash tons sold for Potash Corp. and roughly half of Mosaic's. Agrium sold more tons of potash in North America than it did internationally during the first quarter.

Phosphate
North American phosphate production occurs mostly in the U.S. with Mosaic and Potash Corp. being the primary producers. Production was up 10% in May compared to April but still down 4% year over year. Despite a 46% surge in exports during May inventories are still above their 5-year average. However, they have fallen year over year.

Sales were down 9% in May and still 12% lower than a year ago.  In my opinion, this is at least partly due to the 12% increase in phosphate prices so far in the quarter as figure 2 above shows.

Mixed picture impacts each firm differently
Lower potash production along with weak domestic sales and stronger but lower priced export sales will certainly pressure margins and have the largest impact on Potash Corp. Mosaic will withstand the worst of the weakness in the lower-margin phosphate business. Agrium will be less affected than the others because of its presence throughout the value chain and its spring retail business during planting season in North America. The fertilizer business is in the midst of a very tough point in business cycle just prior to the cyclical upturn, in my opinion. For the time being, it is not likely to get any easier.

Do you know this energy tax "loophole"?
You already know record oil and natural gas production is changing the lives of millions of Americans. But what you probably haven't heard is that the IRS is encouraging investors to support our growing energy renaissance, offering you a tax loophole to invest in some of America's greatest energy companies. Take advantage of this profitable opportunity by grabbing your brand-new special report, "The IRS Is Daring You to Make This Investment Now!," and you'll learn about the simple strategy to take advantage of a little-known IRS rule. Don't miss out on advice that could help you cut taxes for decades to come. Click here to learn more.

GC Mays has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of PotashCorp. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Money to your ears - A great FREE investing resource for you

The best way to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as “binge-worthy finance.”

Feb 1, 2016 at 5:03PM

Whether we're in the midst of earnings season or riding out the market's lulls, you want to know the best strategies for your money.

And you'll want to go beyond the hype of screaming TV personalities, fear-mongering ads, and "analysis" from people who might have your email address ... but no track record of success.

In short, you want a voice of reason you can count on.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich," rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

And one of the easiest, most enjoyable, most valuable ways to get your regular dose of market and money insights is our suite of free podcasts ... what we like to think of as "binge-worthy finance."

Whether you make it part of your daily commute or you save up and listen to a handful of episodes for your 50-mile bike rides or long soaks in a bubble bath (or both!), the podcasts make sense of your money.

And unlike so many who want to make the subjects of personal finance and investing complicated and scary, our podcasts are clear, insightful, and (yes, it's true) fun.

Our free suite of podcasts

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. The show is also heard weekly on dozens of radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers are timeless, so it's worth going back to and listening from the very start; the other three are focused more on today's events, so listen to the most recent first.

All are available for free at www.fool.com/podcasts.

If you're looking for a friendly voice ... with great advice on how to make the most of your money ... from a business with a lengthy track record of success ... in clear, compelling language ... I encourage you to give a listen to our free podcasts.

Head to www.fool.com/podcasts, give them a spin, and you can subscribe there (at iTunes, Stitcher, or our other partners) if you want to receive them regularly.

It's money to your ears.

 


Compare Brokers