Chilean SQM's profit halves, blames potash, iodine price drop
SANTIAGO, March 5 (Reuters) - Chilean fertilizer group SQM reported profits down 51 percent in the final quarter of 2013, impacted by falling world prices for potassium chloride and iodine.
Net income was $69 million, below a market forecast of $78.5 million, according to a Reuters poll of four analysts. In the fourth quarter of 2012, net income was $142 million.
Sales were $492 million, down from $601 million in the fourth quarter of last year, the company reported late Tuesday. Margins were also squeezed as competition increased.
Like other potash producers, the group was hit hard in 2013 by a decline in the price of the fertilizer ingredient after Russia's Uralkali quit a key alliance, but it was upbeat on the long-term outlook.
"We remain confident that total potash demand levels in 2014 will surpass levels recorded during 2013, this could lead to a positive change in the pricing situation we have seen in recent months," said SQM Chief Executive Patricio Contesse in a statement.
SQM, which is also the world's biggest lithium producer, lost more than half its value in 2013, although it has since began to recover.
It has been boosted in part by hopes for increased lithium demand after electric car marker Tesla Motors announced it was building a battery plant.
It has also been rattled by accusations by the Chilean securities regulator that its chairman, Julio Ponce - the former son-in-law of late dictator Augusto Pinochet - and other executives and traders had been manipulating the market.
Ponce controls SQM via related holding companies Potasio , Norte Grande, Oro Blanco and Pampa Calichera.
The group's troubles sparked takeover speculation relating to the world's biggest potash company, Potash Corp, which like Ponce, has a 32 percent stake in SQM.
The Canadian firm has said it wants to increase that holding. (Reporting by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Sophie Hares)
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