PotashCorp evaluating SQM, ICL stakes

(Dave Bedard photo)

New York | Reuters –– PotashCorp CEO Jochen Tilk said Thursday he views the company’s stakes in fertilizer companies Sinofert and Arab Potash Co. as “strategic,” but continues to review whether to keep its shares in ICL and SQM.

Tilk, speaking at a BMO investor conference in New York, said if Saskatoon-based PotashCorp could not build on its SQM and ICL minority stakes, it will consider whether it should keep them.

PotashCorp has control over how Jordan’s Arab Potash Co. markets its potash, and Tilk said the Sinofert stake gives it a window into the Chinese market.

But the company does not have as much influence as it wants over SQM and ICL.

Tilk said in an interview that he has not spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about whether he would permit a foreign company to take control of ICL, in which the government holds a golden share.

PotashCorp tried under former CEO Bill Doyle to gain a majority stake in ICL, but ran into strong opposition and backed off in 2013.

Tilk, who took the PotashCorp helm last July, announced a review in December of the company’s four major equity stakes, which at the time were worth US$4.5 billion.

He said on Thursday he did not want to signal any plans for SQM and ICL investments.

“We can’t be counter-productive by doing or acting (to) impair the value of the companies. Timing is everything.”

ICL CEO Stefan Borgas said in an interview that if PotashCorp wants to increase its stake, it should be direct with Israel’s government and ICL’s biggest shareholder, Israel Corp.

“Our advice would always be for anybody who has these kind of interests, not just in ICL, but in general, is be as specific as you possibly can so there is actually a concrete proposal on the table, rather than just discussing concepts,” he said Wednesday.

Borgas said many investors have approached ICL about interest in PotashCorp’s stake.

PotashCorp recently bought a 9.5 per cent stake in Brazilian fertilizer distributor Heringer SA, but Tilk said he does not see the same need for control as in the company’s other equity investments.

Rod Nickel is a Reuters correspondent covering the agriculture and mining sectors, based in Winnipeg.

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