Belarus renews drive to sell stake in potash giant

Belarus has revived plans to boost its flagging finances by selling a stake in state-owned potash giant, Belaruskali, giving a fresh push to the consolidation wave sweeping through the sector.

Alexander Lukashenko, the Belarusian president, said that up to 25% of Belaruskali was up for grabs, more than eight months after a previous announcement that the stake was for sale.

"We have offered Belaruskali, and it is not a secret anymore," he said on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency, adding that while a price for the sale had been set, he would not reveal it.

"Even though there are few buyers, they are willing to buy it at such a price," he said, adding that it "will not be lowered."

Last August, Vladimir Semashko, the Belarus deputy prime minister, suggested a figure of $6bn-7bn, although the country could argue for a higher consideration given the rise in shares in listed potash producers since.

Shares in sector leader PotashCorp, for instance, have jumped by more than 20% in the last month, boosted by a rising price of the nutrient and growing interest in shares in agriculture-related companies.

Merger wave

The sale replaces Belaruskali at the top of a long list of state-run companies in which Belarus is believed to be considering stake sales, with drugs group Borimed, refinery Naftan Novopolotsk and Belinvestbank also considered likely targets.

India last August declared an interest in Belaruskali, with talks with China, also a large potash importing country, reported to have broken down over price, and speculation also rife over a tie-up with Russian giants Uralkali and Silvinit.

Indeed, the deal extends a wave of tie-ups in potash big and small, from the Silvinit-Uralkali megamerger to the ?25m takeover unveiled on Monday of York Potash by fellow UK exploration group Sirius Minerals.

The broader fertilizer sector has also seen a spate of consolidation, with Monday also bringing the purchase by Louis Dreyfus of West Africa fertilizer group SCPA-Sivex International.

Output rise

Separately, Uralkali, Belaruskali's partner in the Belarus Potash Company export joint venture, revealed that it had, with Silvinit, produced more than 10m tonnes of potash last year, a figure it said matched PotashCorp's output.

Silvinit-Uralkali, which combined produced 6.1m tonnes in 2009, is to further raise capacity through both expanding existing sites and through new mines, the statement said.

Vladislav Baumgertner, the Silvinit chief executive, added that the world potash market would hit 55m-60m tonnes this year, a figure in line with a PotashCorp estimate in October, with consumption "mostly concentrated in China, India, Brazil and South East Asia".

BPC last week sealed a six-month agreement with China to deliver 480,000 tonnes at $400 a tonne, representing a 14% price rise year on year, with an option for a further 120,000 tonnes.


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