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Motley Fool: Potash competitive edge makes nice fit for portfolio

Potash Corp., which owns the Rocanville, Saskatchewan, potash mine and its production facility (above), is the world’s largest supplier of potash, controlling 20 percent of capacity. (Associated Press)
Potash Corp., which owns the Rocanville, Saskatchewan, potash mine and its production facility (above), is the world’s largest supplier of potash, controlling 20 percent of capacity. (Associated Press)

Most of us haven’t given much thought to the fertilizer industry, but we should. Consider potash companies, for example, such as industry leader Potash Corp. (NYSE: POT). Its stock has fallen by more than a quarter over the past year, leading some to see it as a bargain.

Fertilizer is made up of three market segments: potash, phosphates and nitrogen-based fertilizers. Demand is cyclical in the short run, tied to crop prices and, peripherally, to the state of the world economy. But in the long run, demand is kind of inevitable, and likely to grow – in part due to rising worldwide per-capita incomes, attempts to maximize crop yields and a trend toward higher protein consumption in emerging markets.

Potash Corp. is the world’s largest supplier of potash, controlling 20 percent of capacity. Would-be competitors face tough barriers to entry, such as steep mine development costs and the fact that a handful of producers own most of the industry’s capacity. Potash does face risks, such as its vulnerability to fertilizer prices, but it is bolstered by being one of the lowest-cost potash producers. That also gives it a competitive edge.

Potash stock has been looking rather tasty recently, with a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio near 12 and a dividend yield at 4.3 percent. It has been hiking that dividend significantly in recent years, too. Consider taking a closer look at it.

Ask the Fool

Q: I have some money I’d like to invest. I’d like to set up a Roth IRA, but I want to be able to withdraw the money whenever I need to without paying a penalty. What should I do? – K.L., Detroit

A: First, remember that any money you might need within a few years (and even 10 years, if you’re very risk-averse) should not be in stocks, as they can be volatile in the short run. So stick with investments such as CDs or money market funds for short-term money.

Roth IRAs are terrific for most of us, as we can eventually withdraw money from them tax-free – no matter how much our holdings have grown in value over time.

There are rules, though. You’re expected to leave your money in them for at least five years and to not withdraw your earnings until age 59 1/2. Otherwise, a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty fee may apply. Get more IRA details at rothira.com and fool.com/retirement/ira/index.aspx.

My dumbest investment

I bought some Apple shares at $46. The stock rose, and then was fairly flat for years, so when it surged, I figured it was a fluke and sold around $87 per share. I should have just taken my original investment amount and left the rest. So, the rest is history. The iPhone was soon rolled out and then the iPad. If only I had just hung onto those shares! – K.M., online

The Fool responds: Apple stock passed the $700-per-share mark last year and has recently been near $500. Apple stock is down by double digits over the past year, but has averaged annual gains of close to 25 percent over the past 20 years. Whenever you have little faith in a company, selling is the right thing to do. (The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and its newsletters have recommended it.)



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