February 9, 2016 / 1:01 PM / 2 years ago

Fertilizer maker Agrium's forecast disappoints, shares fall

President and CEO Chuck Magro of Agrium addresses shareholders during the company's annual general meeting in Calgary, Alberta, May 6, 2015. REUTERS/Todd Korol

(Reuters) - Agrium Inc (AGU.TO) (AGU.N), a Canadian fertilizer and farm products retailer, joined rival Potash Corp of Saskatchewan Inc (POT.TO) in forecasting a weaker-than-expected 2016 profit, as prices for crop nutrients remain weak.

Agrium’s Toronto-listed shares fell as much as 5.2 percent to C$110.89, its lowest in a year, as investors ignored a better-than-expected quarterly profit.

The company, which sells seed, fertilizers and chemicals directly to farmers in North America, said it expects to earn $5.50-$7.00 per share in 2016, slightly below analysts’ average estimate of $7.01, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Potash prices have fallen sharply over the past year, under pressure from bloated capacity, soft grain prices and weak currencies in major consumers such as India and Brazil.

U.S. farmers are likely to increase total crop plantings in 2016, including 1 million to 3 million more acres of corn, a crop that is fertilizer-intensive, Agrium said on Tuesday. However, challenging macroeconomic conditions and weak crop prices pose risks for the year ahead, the company added.

Rival Potash Corp last month forecast lower-than-expected profit for the year and slashed its dividend, due to tanking fertilizer prices.

Agrium could be the only major fertilizer company to beat expectations for the fourth quarter, and the outlook shouldn’t be surprising given recent commodity prices and Potash Corp’s forecast, BMO analyst Joel Jackson wrote in a note.

Agrium’s fourth-quarter profit from continuing operations nearly tripled to $200 million, or $1.45 per share, helped by a multi-year cost-cutting program and rising production at its expanded Canadian potash mine.

The producer of nitrogen, potash and phosphate fertilizers said its sales volumes rose in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, but weaker prices dragged down total sales.Sales fell 11 percent to $2.41 billion, missing analysts’ estimate of $2.85 billion. Excluding items, profit was $1.52 per share, above analysts’ average estimate of $1.38.

Reporting by Anet Josline Pinto in Bengaluru and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Shounak Dasgupta

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