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Hard commodities aren't getting all of institutional investors' hate in 2013; agricultural commodity stocks are too. Enter
AGU), the Canadian agricultural retailer. Agrium is the largest ag retailer in the U.S., selling fertilizers, chemicals and seed directly to farmers through more than 1,250 locations. One of the most attractive attributes of Agrium is the fact that the firm isn't merely a seller -- it's also the third-largest producer of potash in North America, a factor that should bode well for Agrium's margins as fertilizer prices rise.
Agrium is well-positioned to grab onto bullish trends in the agricultural commodities. Because its customers, the farmers, have that same exposure, they're less price-sensitive to changes in costs than they would otherwise be; fertilizer and seed prices tend to move in lock-step with the prices that farmers are able to charge for their crops.
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From a macro standpoint there's reason to be bullish on the agriculture business: Growing populations and declining farmland continue to be major themes worldwide, and demand for efficiency-improving products (like fertilizers) should continue to strengthen. At the same time, Agrium's push to other regions should help to spawn growth in the next few years.
While a proxy battle at AGU has added some extra headline risks for the firm (big holders want to split the firm's retail and wholesale fertilizer businesses), it's my view that ultimately either outcome will likely add value for investors. The combined firm has more cost savings, while the split up firm will likely see value unlocked from a public offering.
Institutions unloaded more than $25 million shares of AGU in the last quarter.