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The fertilizer industry was blindsided on July 30 when Russian potash giant Uralkali announced it was leaving the lucrative potash cartel. Shares of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan (POT - Analyst Report), the world's largest potash producer, got hit and earnings estimates were slashed. Earnings are now expected to decline by 14% in 2013.
Russian-based Uralkali's announcement, that it would operate its plants at nearly 100% capacity, thereby flooding the fertilizer market with potash, caught everyone by surprise. Uralkali is part of a cartel of companies which includes Belarus-based Belaruskali and the Canadian producers, Potash, Mosaic and Agrium, which regulates the inventory of potash on the market.
Analysts expect the price of potash to plunge as a result. Potash price per ton averaged $485 in 2012. Analysts expect it to fall as low as $300 per ton. Of course, this will go directly to the bottom line.
Not surprisingly, analysts moved to cut their 2013 and 2014 estimates based on the Uralkali news. Potash fell to a Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sell).
It also didn't help that just 6 days before Uralkali's announcement, Potash reported second quarter results and missed by 9 cents. It was a double whammy of negative news.
The 2013 Zacks Consensus Estimate plunged to $2.40 from $2.97 just 30 days before. Earnings are now expected to fall 14.3%.
There was no mercy on 2014's estimates either. The 2014 Zacks Consensus fell to $2.62 from $3.23 just a month before.
Shares of Potash plunged on the Uralkali announcement to 52-week lows and have pretty much stayed around that level since.
For those looking for a silver lining, the company now trades with a forward P/E of only 12.3 which is well below the S&P 500 average of 15.5.
It also pays a dividend which is yielding a juicy 4.8% because of the fall in the shares.
On July 31, Potash also announced it was increasing its share buyback program to $2 billion starting on Aug 2 and continuing until Aug 1, 2014. That is about 5% of outstanding shares.
The short term doesn't look great for Potash or the other potash fertilizers, including Mosaic (MOS - Snapshot Report) or Agrium (AGU - Analyst Report). Both Mosaic and Agrium are also Zacks Rank #5 (Strong Sells) as analysts slashed their estimates as well.
But farmers are always going to need nutrients. Investors interested in the fertilizer group need to have a really long term outlook.
[In full disclosure, the author of this article owns shares of POT.]
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Tracey Ryniec is the Value Stock Strategist for Zacks.com. She is also the Editor of the Turnaround Trader and Value Investor services. You can follow her on twitter at @TraceyRyniec.