March 14, 2019 / 6:45 AM / 6 days ago

UPDATE 2-Rising potash volumes to significantly boost K+S earnings

* Expects 2019 EBITDA in range of 700-850 mln EUR

* Free cash flow to turn positive for first time since 2013

* Shares surge 8 pct (Adds details from analyst call, share reaction)

By Caroline Copley

BERLIN, March 14 (Reuters) - German minerals miner K+S forecast a significant rise in core profit this year, boosted by higher fertiliser prices and rising potash volumes after a severe drought in Germany halted production at its main mine last year.

Production outages at its largest site on the Werra river, higher logistics costs due to the drought and an outage at its new Bethune mine in Canada forced K+S to cut its guidance twice last year.

The company said on Thursday that it had increased storage capacity for saline wastewater in the Werra area and does not expect a repeat of the stoppages this year. It also forecast a rise in production at the Bethune mine this year to 1.7-1.9 million tonnes from around 1.4 million tonnes last year.

As a result, it said earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) should rise to between 700 million and 850 million euros ($792 million-$962 million), from 606 million euros in 2018.

“We are quite confident to stay in this range for the remainder of the year,” Chief Executive Burkhard Lohr told analysts on Thursday.

Shares in K+S, which have shed a third of their value over the past year, jumped 8.4 percent to trade at 16.65 euros by 0918 GMT.

Its positive outlook contrasted with that of Canadian rival Nutrien — formed by the merger of Agrium Inc and Potash Corp of Saskatchewan last year — which forecast 2019 profit below analysts’ estimates due to pressure on crop prices and the impact of the U.S.-China trade dispute.

Lohr said he was relaxed about pressure on potash prices from new competitors, saying recent volume increases had been comfortably swallowed by rising demand and often substituted lost capacity.

Russian-controlled fertilizer producer EuroChem plans to produce more than 8 million tonnes a year by 2024, but warned in November that the launch of its second plant would be delayed.

K+S also expects its free cash flow forecast to turn positive this year for the first time since 2013 as cost cuts start to bear fruit.

Fourth-quarter EBITDA rose 22 percent to 228 million euros, versus an average 207 million euros forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll, while sales increased 18 percent to 1.2 billion euros, also ahead of consensus.

The company proposed a cut in its dividend to 0.25 euros per share, versus 0.35 euros a year earlier, as adjusted group earnings after taxes fell due to higher interest expenses and depreciation at its Bethune mine in Canada. ($1 = 0.8838 euros) (Reporting by Caroline Copley Editing by Riham Alkousaa, Richard Pullin and Kirsten Donovan)

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