Home > Market change > BHP faces potash cartel backlash

BHP faces potash cartel backlash

August 27, 2010

“Mosaic and Agrium, the partners of PotashCorp in Canada’s fertiliser cartel, have launched a campaign defending the industry’s pricing and marketing arrangements in a move that could impede BHP Billiton’s $39bn takeover bid for PotashCorp.

BHP has signalled it plans to use infrastructure such as port and rail facilities that belong to Canpotex, the cartel that comprises PotashCorp, US-based Mosaic and Agrium of Canada. “

Source: Financial Times, August 26, 2010

Observations:

  • The fertiliser cartel, which controls 70% of the global market in cooperation with the Russian cartel and PhosChem, is currently regulating supply in order to keep stable, high prices.
  • BHP is planning to operate PotashCorp’s mines at full capacity and has also indicated it wants to move the fertiliser market to a day-based pricing system.

Implications:

  • BHP will have to play according to the rules of the cartel at least in the first years after the acquisition (if it succeeds). The cartel shares logistical assets that are crucial for the Saskatchewan operations to operate at low costs. Breaking the rules of the game would seriously impede BHP’s access to these assets.
  • BHP’s incentive to break the rules of the game are grounded in the production cost curve. Lowering the global price would force many small operators (including Vale) out of business.
  • The move of BHP into the phosphate business will force the high cost suppliers to lower cost. This is the main reason various players are trying to prevent the acquisition from happening.

©2010 | Wilfred Visser | thebusinessofmining.com

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