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Lower Gas Costs Boost Earnings at Fertilizer Maker Agrium

Not everyone is unhappy about low gas prices. For fertilizer maker Agrium, natural gas feedstock costs came in about 32% lower than a year ago and helped boost first quarter earnings.

“We have access to some of the lowest cost natural gas in the world for our nitrogen manufacturing, and have a local production and distribution network that allows us to sell that product in the higher-selling price regions,” said Chuck Magro, CEO of the Calgary-based firm.

Agrium said its first-quarter gas costs, including hedging impacts, averaged $2.93/MMBtu, compared to $4.29/MMBtu a year earlier. Excluding the impact of derivatives, the company said its first quarter 2015 gas cost was $2.52/MMBtu, compared to $5.02/MMBtu a year ago.

The average Nymex natural gas price for the first quarter of 2015 was $2.96/MMBtu, compared to $4.90/MMBtu in the same quarter last year, the company said.

Agrium’s first quarter earnings came in at $14 million, compared with $3 million a year earlier.

The firm benefited from “much lower natural gas cost,” higher utilization rates at its plants and the lower Canadian dollar, Magro said on an earnings conference call Wednesday.

Agrium gave guidance for an average natural gas price of $2.50-$3.50/MMBtu for the rest of the year.

The firm continues to make progress on its $720 million Borger, TX, plant expansion, which Magro said is expected online in early 2016.

The expansion, adding about 145,000 tons/year of ammonia capacity, could mean the addition of some 4.9 Bcf/year of natural gas demand at Borger based on the standard of 34 MMBtu of gas used to produce 1 ton of ammonia. Natural gas can account for about 70-90% of the input cost of producing nitrogen-based fertilizers, according to industry estimates.

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