Why Uralkali’s 2013 surprise sets up a 2014 potash recovery
Taking back market share
Uralkali’s switch to a volume-over-price strategy is a signal that it wants its market share back—not really to gain market share. While Uralkali has maintained its price-over-volume strategy, other producers have benefited from its approach. So Uralkali’s move to increase volume signaled to other producers that they should back away and do their part to maintain prices. Of course, other producers aren’t going to discuss this in their presentations.
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Note that we could have said other producers “took advantage” of Uralkali’s price-over-volume strategy. Yet this might not necessarily be the case, since Canpotex and other major producers’ market could have grown out of increased competition and available capacity, as well as weak overall demand.
In one of Mosaic Co.’s (MOS) presentations, the company showed that the potash industry’s operating rate had slumped to levels lower than those seen in 2009. Operating rate is a useful measure of industry competitiveness in an oligopoly. If operating rate is low, assuming companies try to match production to shipments, competition tends to be high, as companies try to cover their fixed costs. This results in low potash prices—and vice versa.
Factors for low rates
A buildup in excess supply driven by capacity increases over the last few years amid favorable potash prices, and combined with unusually weak demand, led to a low operating rate. Weak demand was caused by slower economic growth and food inflation in emerging markets, a weaker Indian rupee that increased Indian buyers’ expenses, and unfavorable government subsidies.
Naturally, prices had fallen. Understandably, Uralkali said a prolonged decline in potash prices also made the price-over-volume strategy difficult to implement due to increased competition.