UPDATE 1-Agrium boosts profit outlook on strong fertilizer sales
Jan 24 (Reuters) - Canada's Agrium Inc raised its fourth-quarter earnings outlook on Thursday as strong grain and oilseed prices spurred demand for its fertilizer products in North America over the fall season.
The Calgary, Alberta-based fertilizer maker, which is also the largest retailer of farm products in the region, said it expected quarterly earnings of slightly more than $2 a share, excluding one-time items.
Agrium, which is under pressure from activist shareholder Jana Partners to split its retail and wholesale arms and make other changes to improve returns, had earlier forecast earnings of $1.50 to $1.90 a share for the period.
Analysts on average were expecting earnings of $1.73 a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. Agrium is set to announce detailed fourth-quarter and full-year results on Feb. 22.
"Going forward, continued strength in crop prices and low global grain inventories are anticipated to support a strong spring application season in 2013," Chief Executive Officer Mike Wilson said in a statement.
Agrium is hosting an analyst day in New York on Monday, when it is expected to provide a detailed review of its retail division.
Despite pressure from Jana, its largest shareholder, Agrium has refused to consider spinning off its retail arm. It says the business helps with cost savings, while providing a wealth of market insight and an earnings buffer in a cyclical industry.
Jana, which has named a slate of nominees for election to Agrium's board, says the company has only addressed the split-up proposal, but not other issues the New York-based hedge fund has flagged, like cost controls and concerns about capital allocation.
"Agrium's board has been living in an alternate universe where shareholders have no desire to explore the many ways we've identified to unlock value," said Jana Managing Partner Barry Rosenstein in a statement issued on Wednesday.
Agrium shares have risen nearly 40 percent over the last 12 months and closed on Wednesday at $110.88 in New York. Its Toronto-listed shares closed at C$110.65.