Pricing, of course, is paramount. With the potash players -- Canada's
, Plymouth, Minn.-based
and, to a lesser degree, the other big Canadian nutrient concern,
-- the market remains
Most analysts don't foresee a return to normal demand, normal sales volumes and normal prices until 2011.
With the nitrogen and phosphate players, on the other hand, matters are perhaps a bit easier to fathom. (Both Potash and Mosaic have large phosphate businesses, as does Agrium and Deerfield, Ill.-based
, of Sioux City, Iowa, is by and large a pure-play nitrogen maker.)
Pricing for these manufactured nutrients has firmed to a greater degree than the mined potash -- which, since it's mined and not produced with raw materials in gigantic plants on the banks of industrial-zone rivers, has far wider profit margins.
But what's most confounded the nitrogen/phosphate area of the business for a full year now has been the ongoing three-way fertilizer war, with Agrium trying to buy CF, which is trying to buy Terra.
It appears that almost no one (except the companies themselves, at least publicly) really believes anymore that a deal will get done. The spreads between the trading prices and the offer prices remain so wide that it's clear the market has signaled its skepticism.
Still, the drama has yet to reach its denouement, and that very open-endedness -- whether the story ends with a whimper rather than a bang, as most expect -- must be taken into account by any fertilizer-sector investor.
In light of all this, which fertilizer company's stock will outperform the rest in 2010? Take the poll below and add your vote to the consensus of
-- Written by Scott Eden in New York
Follow TheStreet.com on
and become a fan on
Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.