A tough farm economy has meant lower fertilizer prices for Mosaic Co. for the past couple of years — and a sharp profit drop at the end of 2016 — but company officials said they see a slow turnaround taking shape.
The global fertilizer company based in Plymouth said it earned $12 million in the last three months of the year, down from $155 million in the fourth quarter of 2015. The company also slashed its targeted annual dividend to 60 cents a share, down 45 percent from $1.10.
“While we are confident the market bottom is behind us, the pace of improvement is expected to be gradual,” Chief Executive Joc O’Rourke said in a statement.
Adjusted for one-time costs, the company earned 26 cents a share in the quarter, which was 13 cents higher than analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were expecting.
Sales were $1.9 billion, down from $2.2 billion in the same period the year before.
Mosaic is one of the world’s largest fertilizer companies, mining potash and phosphate and processing those minerals into crop nutrients. Its largest potash operations are in Saskatchewan; its biggest phosphate mines are in south-central Florida.
The company is optimistic about prices turning around in 2017, said O’Rourke in a conference call with analysts.
One factor is that Chinese production and exports of phosphate products declined significantly in 2016 and are likely to drop more in the coming year, he said. The changes are being driven by Chinese concerns that some of its older and inefficient production facilities need to be shut down and rebuilt to become profitable and reduce air and water pollution.
Mike Rahm, Mosaic’s vice president of market and strategic analysis, said the outlook for 2017 also includes broad-based growth and demand for phosphate products in Brazil and India, as well as emerging markets in Africa, Argentina, the former Soviet Union and Southeast Asia.
Despite those positive conditions, the company said it expects the pace of improvement to remain slow through 2017 and decided to cut dividends “to maintain a strong financial position.”
Christopher Muir, an equity analyst for CFRA Research, said that his firm was lowering its target price for Mosaic stock by $1 to $35 because of the lower earnings-per-share estimates for 2017 and the dividend cut. “We see some pressure on fertilizer affordability later in 2017, but think that volumes and prices will continue to rise slowly,” he said in a research note.
The stock’s 52-week trading range is $22.20 to $33.99. Shares traded up 20 cents, or 0.62 percent, on Tuesday, and closed at $32.23 for the day.