* Earnings just above market expectations (Updates with sector details, company comment)
SANTIAGO, May 24 (Reuters) - Chilean fertilizer, lithium and iodine producer SQM SQM_pb.SN(SQM.N) said on Tuesday its first quarter profit rose 46 percent from a year earlier to $111.4 million as high commodity prices boosted revenues.
Market analysts had expected SQM’s net profit to jump 44 percent to $110 million during the quarter as higher commodity prices boost demand for crop nutrients, a Reuters poll showed this month. [ID:nN02271965]
Revenue rose 23.6 percent to $480 million during the quarter.
Earnings per share totaled 1.2 pesos per ‘b’ series share during the quarter, compared with 3.6 pesos during the same period last year.
Revenue from iodine and its derivatives rose 49.2 percent during the period to $93.87 million as prices rose around 9 percent from a year earlier. Lithium revenues rose 24.8 percent to $42.3 million as demand rose from new Asian battery makers.
“We have observed a return to historical growth rates in our main markets, and we expect this healthy demand trend to continue in the following quarters of the year,” CEO Patricio Contesse said in a statement.
“Although market conditions continue to improve, we will face some pressure in terms of higher energy and labor costs,” he added, saying the company’s fertilizer business performed strongly thanks to international potash prices.
SQM’s net profit rose 13 percent to $382 million in all of 2010 after posting increased sales in all products, most notably in iodine and lithium.
The company reported fourth-quarter earnings rose 34 percent year-on-year to $105.8 million.
The world’s top lithium producer has said it does not need to sell debt this year to finance about $500 million in new investments, signaling healthy cash flow. [ID:nN28269764]
SQM shares rose 1.56 percent to 27,649 pesos a share on Tuesday, while the blue chip IPSA .IPSA index fell 0.16 percent. ($1 = 482.02 Chilean pesos at the end of March) (Reporting by Santiago newsroom; editing by Andre Grenon)