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TheStreet Open House

You Think the Fed Is Confusing? Look at the Potash Industry

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The Federal Reserve's bond-buying extravaganza will continue until further notice. That's mainly because the U.S. economy is growing only modestly, a downgrade from its June diagnosis.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said after the June meeting that the Fed may taper the bond purchase program later in 2013 if the economy and jobs market continued to improve.

Yet, thanks to disappointing economic growth numbers in the second quarter of 2013 released earlier, the Fed described at Wednesday's meeting that the economy was expanding at a "modest pace."

At its June meeting the Fed described economic growth as "moderate" and forecast that growth could be at least 2.3% for the year. But the third-quarter number showed a dismal 1.7% growth rate.

As alarming is the fact that the U.S. economy has grown at below a 2% rate for three straight quarters. Neither the stock market nor the bond market knew what to make of the Fed's Wednesday pronouncement.

If a big correction is to ensue like it did after the June Fed announcement it apparently is on hold at least till Thursday. Friday's jobless rate report, which has been stuck at 7.6%, may weigh in heavily.

Now let's switch gears. The day before the Fed's statements a cartel that sets the prices for one of the most important agricultural commodities collapsed like an overheated runner in a desert marathon.

This international convulsion sent the agricultural fertilizer market into cognitive dissonance and has the potential to cause more of what the Federal Reserve of the U.S. doesn't want -- deflation!

It all started in Moscow after the Russian potash producer Uralkali (URALL) lowered the boom and said it was withdrawing from an integral sales partnership with Belarus.

This was the straw that broke the back of an international cartel that controls over 66% of the $22 billion market for the fertilizer ingredient potash. URALL hit a 52-week low on Wednesday before recuperating to $22 a share, down more than 8% for the day.

North American companies weren't spared from the bloodbath. Shares of the company with the largest producer capacity of potash on planet earth, Potash of Saskatchewan (POT) imploded Wednesday to a 52-week low of $29.

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