By Polina Devitt and Alessandra Prentice
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Uralkali
Uralkali, which missed analysts' forecasts with a 53 percent fall in first-half profit, is at the center of a potash row between Russia and Belarus, triggered when the Russian company quit a joint sales cartel in July - rocking the global potash industry.
Since then Belarus has arrested Uralkali's boss and fuelled speculation that the company's main shareholder, billionaire Suleiman Kerimov may have to sell his 21.75 percent stake.
"We don't have any additional information from our big shareholders concerning potential changes in the shareholder structure," Viktor Belyakov, Uralkali's chief financial officer and acting chief executive, said on a conference call.
The company has formed a new strategy following the break-up of the agreement with Belaruskali in late July and under its current plans does not foresee returning to a trade alliance with Belarus in potash, used as a fertilizer.
"The board of Uralkali has approved the new strategy, which does not provide for reunification," Uralkali's chairman Alexander Voloshin, a former Kremlin chief of staff, said on the call.
Shares in Uralkali, which dropped nearly 19 percent when the firm said it had quit the joint venture with Belarus, have rallied this week on Russian press speculation that buyers were interested in Kerimov's stake.
The Kommersant daily on Tuesday added construction tycoon Arkady Rotenberg, a former judo partner of President Vladimir Putin, to a shortlist of potential buyers that has surfaced in unsourced reports in the Moscow financial press.
None of the suitors mentioned in the press - Rotenberg, oil investor Mikhail Gutseriev or ex-banker Vladimir Kogan - have confirmed their interest. Telecoms-to-retail billionaire Vladimir Evtushenkov, also named, has issued a denial.
Rotenberg's representative declined to comment on Tuesday, while Gutseriev and Kogan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Belarus arrested Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner on August 26 as he visited the country on the invitation of its prime minister. He faces up to 10 years in jail on charges of abuse of power. The ex-Soviet state later accused top shareholder Kerimov of the same crimes.
IMPACT ON GLOBAL PRICES
Uralkali had expected the break-up of its trading alliance to drive the global potash price below $300 per tonne in the second half of 2013, from $400. But on Tuesday the firm said demand would keep the price from sinking too low.
"The price may touch $300 but this level is not sustainable," Uralkali head of sales, Oleg Petrov, told analysts.
The firm sees lower fertilizer prices boosting demand from price-sensitive farmers in Asia. But in the short-term, some potash importers are holding off accepting further orders in anticipation of price developments, the company said.
Uralkali intends to ramp up production capacity to offset the lower prices, seeing output rising to 15 million tonnes by 2020. The company also said it was on track to produce at least 10.5 million tonnes this year and is running close to capacity.
Its first-half net profit fell 53 percent year-on-year to $397 million, missing forecasts due to increased competition and foreign exchange losses. Net revenue was down 29 percent at $1.35 billion.
Uralkali may apply for a seven-year $400 million credit line from Sberbank
Uralkali shares closed up 5.7 percent in volatile Moscow trading, outperforming a 0.5 percent increase in the broader MICEX index .
(Reporting by Alessandra Prentice and Polina Devitt; Additional reporting by Victoria Andreeva and Natalia Shurmina; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Jane Merriman)
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- Suleiman Kerimov