It was a wild and whacky week. Merrill Lynch and Lehman Brothers, two icons from the world of investment banking, are gone or soon will be. Further, the Feds have to some degree nationalized financial services, and the equities markets have bounced around like a cork in a storm.
So you're to be excused if you missed the news that lawsuits alleging price fixing and collusion have been filed against several fertilizer companies, including Potash Corp.
In just the past couple of years, the price of phosphate, an important fertilizer ingredient, has nearly tripled, while a ton of potash, also a key fertilizer component, has increased by an even greater amount. Beyond that, it seems that there are a couple of key aspects to understanding the lawsuits and their potential outcome:
- Because of a 1918 measure called the Webb-Pomerene Act, phosphate makers are permitted to pass among themselves information that in other industries would set off antitrust sirens.
- At the behest of Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year looked into the possibility of antitrust violations within the fertilizer industry. The resulting FTC look-see found no evidence of collusion among the companies.
I have no intention of being cavalier in regard to potential industry collusion, because nobody can yet know what's really going on in fertilizer component pricing. But for lots of reasons that probably should be readily apparent, the world of agriculture has virtually exploded in the recent past, positively affecting such companies as DuPont
Unless I learn otherwise, however, I'm not going to lapse into lather about shenanigans related to fertilizer pricing. Indeed, because the global world of agriculture must expand steadily and substantially in the years to come, I would simply offer that this is a sector deserving of ongoing Foolish attention.
Check out Motley Fool CAPS to see what your fellow investors are saying about these fertilizer companies. Then chime in with your own opinion.
Fool contributor David Lee Smith, a one-time wanderer in potash mines, doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned above. He does, however, welcome your questions, comments, or college football tips. The Fool has a disclosure policy.