UBS lifts potash price target, as India deal looms

Rising demand for potash in Latin America, and signs that India may accede to digging deeper than it had anticipated for supplies, have prompted UBS to lift its forecasts for prices of the nutrient by up to 20%.

The investment bank raised forecasts for average annual potash prices for every year to 2015, when they were pegged at $550 a tonne, which would represent a recovery of 57% from last year's low.

The upgrade reflected a change in assumptions that a "sharp" recovery in the North American market late last year, and a decreasing discount in Latin American prices, were temporary phenomena.

"While we originally thought the N American to rest of World pricing gap was a localised anomaly, it is becoming clearer that trades into Latin America are increasingly targeting the US price levels," UBS said.

The Latin American market was "to continue to see gradual price momentum", supported by "relatively robust farmer economics", which have been supported by elevated crop prices.

The region's clamour for fertilizers is heightening congestion as Brazil's ports, as revealed on Monday.

'Blood pressure'

Furthermore, India, one of the world's biggest potash importers, "is now indicating that it may accept $450 a tonne" as the price for the nutrient, having held out most lately for a price of $420 a tonne, and even considering a holiday from applications.

UBS potash price forecasts and (change on previous estimate)

2015: $550 a tonne, (+$90 a tonne)

2014: $520 a tonne, (+$60 a tonne)

2013: $520 a tonne, (+$60 a tonne)

2012: $500 a tonne, (+$40 a tonne)

2011: $465 a tonne, (+$35 a tonne)

Potash, unlike nitrogen, does not necessarily need application every year to avoid a significant threat to yields.

"India is more open to settlement of higher contract prices [and]... has softened its stance on potash price increases," UBS said, forecasting a deal might be struck following a fertilizer industry conference in Montreal, Canada later this month.

Bill Doyle, the chief executive of potash giant PotashCorp, two weeks ago said that suppliers would not back down over price rises, saying they had alternative buyers if India walked away, adding that "hopefully next time, we can keep everyone's blood pressure a little lower on the Indian side, because it really is not helpful".

PotashCorp in January had forecast that India would "move quickly to secure new supply contracts" to maximise production hopes, estimating the country's imports could hit a record 6.5m tonnes, a figure it has since upgraded.

Raised hopes 

On Wednesday, K+S, Europe's top potash group, highlighted the better prospects for the world market, edging higher its forecast for global sales volumes this year to 58m-60m tonnes, from 57m-60m tonnes.

Sales, which slumped more than 40% to 31.0m tonnes in 2009, will reach 64m-68m tonnes in 2014.

The German-based company also confirmed a lift to "strong", from "significant", in its expectation for growth in potash profits this year, as it unveiled group earnings up 70% to E293.6m for the January-to-March period.

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