Phosphate market sales down in 1st quarter

Published 2:58 pm Sunday, May 7, 2017

AURORA — The phosphate market continues its slump as the first business quarter of 2017 came to a close, according to the company’s quarterly report.

“Weaker prices resulted in gross margin of $11 million for the quarter, significantly lower than the $39 million earned in 2016’s first quarter,” a press release stated. “Our average realized phosphate price for the quarter was $423 per tonne, down from $499 per tonne in the same period last year, reflecting lower benchmark pricing for all our products.”

Although the overall market is trending downward, it did improve slightly from the last quarter of 2016, according to the release.

The slump began last year, and PotashCorp Chief Executive Officer Jochen Tilk attributed it to a weaker market for liquid fertilizers and competition in the dry feed market. In the market surrounding phosphoric acid, of which phosphate is an element, 60 percent of the phosphoric product is funneled to dry feed producers, while 40 percent is incorporated into liquid fertilizer, according to Tilk.

“Prices for feed and industrial products continued to trend lower in the first quarter and remained below prior-year levels, due primarily to increased supply from offshore producers,” the release stated.

As with last quarter, PotashCorp is still predicting its 2017 gross margin for nitrogen and phosphate combined to be $150-$400 million, despite the “difficult market fundamentals.”

PotashCorp is also continuing its merger with agricultural product company Agrium Inc. Both operations are based out of Canada.

Tilk said in a previous interview that he hopes the merger will lead to stronger sales in the phosphate market, as the meshing of the companies’ phosphate resources was one of the top talking points of the merger.

“We’re still hopeful that as we move along in the merger, and it eventually gets consummated, that there is an opportunity to really get these synergies in the phosphate area materializing,” he said. The merger, announced in September 2016, is still on track for completion later this year.

PotashCorp’s phosphate mine operation in Aurora employees more than 800 people in Beaufort and surrounding counties.