Tuesday, December 20, 2011
I Could Have Been A Potash Tycoon
And these thoughts were instigated by one thing - potash.
I recall learning about potash when I was a young schoolboy - it was an ancient creation, made by burning plants and trees and mixing the resulting ashes into a field where one wanted to grow food. The ashes were loaded with potassium, but we have since found that there are massive sources of potassium already in existence underground, so it is mined and sold worldwide for everything from fertilizer to plastics to textiles and much, much more.
(A side note here - my high school chemistry teacher really did not open up much of an exploration of chemistry as such. She was in the midst of a divorce and was realizing she was a lesbian and was concerned with the daily issues of running a small donut shop with her husband when she taught my class. On the plus side: we had hot fresh donuts every day, usually kept warm in a rather expensive incubator in the chemistry classroom. But I digress.)
As I said, the word potash came up when I read a report yesterday about a 22-year-old Russian lady who just paid the most ever recorded for an apartment - $88 million for a ten-room flat in Manhattan, about $13,000-plus per square foot. She is Ekaterina Rybolovleva, the heir of Potash Tycoon Dmitry Rybolovleva, who last year sold his share of the Russian potash company Uralkali for $6.5 billion. (His Wikipedia page is an oddly translated tale of fabulous wealth and personal strife, including a murder charge for which he was ultimately acquitted. ) Ekatrina is apparently only going to use the apartment when she 'visits' Manhattan.
There are really only a few companies controlling the potassium market - the Potash Corp. of Canada, Uralkali and Belaruskali, and another North American company called Mosaic. But we're not done yet - "The global trade in potash is even more concentrated, with just two syndicates dominant: Canpotex managing sales of the three North American majors, Potash Corp, Mosaic and Agrium; and BPC, a joint venture combining Uralkali and Belaruskali."
According to the report cited above, the price is expected to surge in the next decade, from around $400 a ton to $1500 a ton. Of course, like most items traded on the global markets, the economic collapse in 2008 dropped the price, but it is on the rise again - potash is vital for bio-fuels and for growing more and more food for folks who live in India and China and Brazil and everywhere else. And it's a vital manufacturing component for just about everything.
Potash is Big Business.
And never once did anyone tell me, "Son, invest in potash". And what I thought I knew about potash and potassium turned out to be damned little. And I learned just a wee bit more about the faceless and nameless few who control patents on chemical elements and the global economy.
And like Billy Pilgrim, I sit here all old and stuff, my feet turning blue in the cold, pecking away at a keyboard and being a curmudgeon. "Potash," I mutter to no one. "Potash."