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PotashCorp benefits from strong fertilizer demand

The Associated Press

Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc., one of the world's largest fertilizer producers, reported Thursday that its first-quarter net income increased 13 percent on stronger demand for potash.

It also reiterated a solid full-year profit forecast, and its shares rose in trading.

The Canadian company said that it earned $556 million, or 63 cents per share, for the period that ended March 31. That's up from $491 million, or 56 cents per share, a year earlier. Its revenue increased to $2.1 billion from $1.74 billion.

The company got a boost from a 78 percent increase in potash sales volume and a $77 million contribution to earnings from an offshore potash investment.

Analysts polled by FactSet expected the company would earn 60 cents per share on revenue of $1.85 billion.

PotashCorp sells potash, nitrogen and phosphate. The company's President and CEO Bill Doyle said that while all three nutrients are essential for food production, the growth in potash demand represents a unique opportunity for the company.

Doyle said the company is nearly done with a number of expansion projects that will help it in the year ahead.

The company reiterated its full-year earnings forecast of $2.75 to $3.25 per share, including second-quarter earnings in the range of 70 to 85 cents per share. Analysts had forecasts earnings of $2.95 per share for the year and 87 cents per share for the second quarter.

The news sent U.S.-traded shares of the company up 3 percent to $40.85.

PotashCorp also said Thursday that it will no longer pursue its plans to expand its ownership stake in Israel Chemicals Ltd.

The company had been in talks with Israeli government officials about its options to increase its stake in the business, which is partially state-owned.

PotashCorp said Thursday that while it still believes such a move would benefit both companies and the Israel government, the government does not appear to be receptive to foreign investment. The company also said there is little certainty in the rules surrounding such a move.

PotashCorp holds a 14 percent stake in the business. The Israel Corp., a holding company that owns a majority stake in the company, had expressed a desire to sell an increased stake to PotashCorp. However, Israel's new finance minister has publicly indicated that he would oppose such a deal, saying the country's mineral wealth belongs to the country.

PotashCorp has tried more than once to increase the stake. It also dropped similar plans in 2012 after delays in the government review process.