(Bloomberg) — The news, when it came late Friday night from a government ministry in Minsk, was grim: the ceiling of a potash mine in Belarus had collapsed more than half a kilometer underground, trapping two workers.
Halfway around the world, the reaction to the headlines was swift and dramatic. Shares of some of the largest potash producers soared in New York and Toronto on speculation that the accident could knock out a large chunk of global production capacity.
The March 9 episode vividly illustrates that after a decade of gluts, the industry is suddenly nervous again about supply shocks. Demand has been constantly increasing and any change in production from the world’s top suppliers in Canada, Belarus and Russia has the potential to impact the market dramatically, said Daniel Sherman, a senior analyst for Edward Jones in St. Louis.
“If a large mine in one of those suppliers is hit, it’s clearly going to put a dent in the supply,” Sherman said by telephone. “One of the key things is the supply is very concentrated.”
State-owned Belaruskali is the world’s second-largest potash producer and is one of three companies, alongside with Russia’s Uralkali and North America’s Canpotex, that accounts for more than 60 percent of total output. The fertilizer ingredient is used to strengthen plant roots and boost drought resistance.
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