--CF Industries profit climbs 31%
--Results helped by warm winter that accelerated fertilizer use, depressed natural gas costs
--Results beat Wall Street expectations
(Updates with detail, share price.)
By Ian Berry and Nathalie Tadena
CF Industries Holdings Inc.'s (CF) first-quarter earnings rose 31% on an unusually warm winter that drove down natural gas prices and prompted earlier-than-usual fertilizer applications.
The nitrogen fertilizer producer reported increased volumes and prices for ammonia and urea, beating analyst expectations as high crop prices continued to drive farmers to plant more acres, keeping fertilizer supplies tight.
CF noted an exceptionally mild winter and early spring weather created favorable field conditions in the latest period. The company added that preplant nutrient application that has been well ahead of normal schedules contributed to an increase in demand for ammonia and urea as the quarter progressed.
The suburban Chicago company, along with its peers, has benefited from rising corn prices and a widespread farm sector boom, resulting in a surge in its profits lately. The company's revenue has been strengthening over the past two years, helped by higher phosphate selling prices and growing demand.
CF's acquisition of rival Terra Industries Inc. in 2010 turned the company into the largest North American nitrogen fertilizer business and improved its regional production footprint in key geographic locations in the U.S. and Canada. Its U.S. focus has also given it easy access to cheap natural gas thanks to the shale gas boom in the U.S.
The company's natural gas cost fell 19% versus a year ago. CF said the warm winter weather resulted in the second-fewest heating degree days in the past 80 years and an all-time high in natural gas inventory at the end of winter.
However, CF also reported a $55.9 million mark-to-market loss on natural gas derivatives.
The company said Thursday high expected corn planting, tight nitrogen supply and favorable natural gas prices provide a positive environment for 2012. Analysts are expecting high crop prices will continue to drive more planted acreage in South America this fall.
CF reported a profit of $368.4 million, or $5.54 a share, up from $282 million, or $3.91 a share, a year earlier.
Revenue rose 30% to $1.53 billion, due to higher sales volume and nitrogen product prices.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a profit of $4.83 a share and revenue of $1.24 billion.
Gross margin widened to 46.6% from 44.7%.
Total sales volume increased to 3.7 million tons from 3.3 million tons a year earlier.
Shares were up 0.2% to $197.95 in recent after hours trading. The stock is up 36% since the start of the year.
-By Ian Berry and Nathalie Tadena, Dow Jones Newswires; 312-750-4072; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org