Is Agrium Inc. a Safe Stock to Own?

One reason why investing in an agriculture business is a good idea is because food is one of those things people have to have. Because of this, investing in businesses that help the agriculture business is definitely worth consideration. And one that many investors have been thinking about is Agrium Inc.  (TSX:AGU)(NYSE:AGU).

Those who purchased this stock in the fall of 2014 in the low $90s have experienced tremendous returns; the stock peak only a few months later above $140 a share. But even now at $121 per share, investors have seen nice returns on their investments.

But what about the future? Can investors expect this stock to stay where it is or, even better, grow?

If the Q1 earnings results offer insight, it’s a little uncertain. The net income plummeted by 83% year over year. Management had to downgrade its earnings guidance to US$5.25-6.25 per share, which, even at the top price, is still 11% lower than what it earned in 2015.

A big reason why this occurred is because its prices for nitrogen, one of the key ingredients in fertilizer, dropped by 18%. This forced profits down considerably and impacted the entire quarter. And, as we’ve seen with other companies in the space, there is a glut in fertilizer nutrients.

I like Agrium better than other fertilizer businesses, such as Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc., is because it is diversified. It doesn’t just derive its revenue from potash, nitrogen, or other minerals. Instead, it has a wide network of retail stores that allows it to sell goods to farmers; the stores produced 80% of its sales for the quarter.

Agrium continues to acquire retail outlets throughout the United States. At the beginning of the month it revealed that it was buying 18 retail locations in several U.S. states from Cargill AgHorizons. While it didn’t reveal the price it paid, it expects these outlets to generate $150 million per year in revenue. These 18 locations are added to the 1,400 locations Agrium operates, the bulk of which are in the United States.

On the fertilizer side, Agrium has been able to cut costs significantly. For example, it was able to cut its administrative, general, and selling expenses by 6% year over year.

Agrium’s Borger nitrogen expansion is expected to be finished by early 2017. This helps two-fold because revenue will go up as its capacity increases, but costs will come down. In 2014 they company spent $2 billion on this expansion. After the Borger expansion is done, that will drop to around $550 million.

Should current investors be worried? I believe the answer is no. The stock is relatively stable, it generates cash flow, and it should be able to pay its 3.75% yield of $1.14 per quarter. As for new investors, I would wait until we have a better idea on what the future holds for its fertilizer business. While there isn’t much downside, its upside is still very opaque. So wait for its quarterly results to come out to determine if you should enter.

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Fool contributor Jacob Donnelly has no position in any stocks mentioned. Agrium Inc. is a recommendation of Stock Advisor Canada.

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