The chief executive of fertiliser maker Incitec Pivot Ltd, Julian Segal, says he is cautiously optimistic about the outlook for earnings in the current financial year.
"The outlook for 2008 is that we are on track for where we want to be," Mr Segal told reporters after the company's annual general meeting in Melbourne on Thursday.
"You need to recognise that for us the important critical time is in between Anzac Day (April 25) and Queen's Birthday (June 9), when we need the rains for the winter crop, which is a major contributor to our distribution business earnings. "So I would say cautiously optimistic."
Incitec Pivot more than tripled its annual profit for fiscal 2007 and said the global outlook for fertiliser prices was strong.
In November, the company reported a net profit of $205.3 million for 2006/07.
Mr Segal told shareholders that strong demand for fertilisers continued to push up prices.
"In the year ahead, I expect global demand for fertilisers to continue to put pressure on international and domestic fertiliser prices," he said.
"Prices continue to rise in the first quarter of the 2008 financial year, and are now at record levels."
Incitec Pivot chairman John Watson told shareholders that the company was still considering its position in relation to its 13 per cent stake in explosives maker Dyno Nobel Ltd.
"On the question of our 13 per cent investment in Dyno Nobel, we are working to understand the implications of that company's announcement last week, to halt its new ammonium nitrate plant in Queensland," Mr Watson said.
Last week, Dyno Nobel suspended plans to build an ammonium nitrate plant at Moranbah in Queensland, saying it had become too expensive to build.
The Moranbah project was originally expected to cost $520 million.
Mr Watson also said that Incitec would be looking closely at new information Dyno Nobel provided on its improvement program.
Dyno Nobel said it expected the improvement program, called Project Imagine, to deliver $US52 million ($A60.68 million) in benefits by 2010.
Also at the Incitec annual general meeting, one shareholder said he would oppose a resolution to increase fees for non-executive directors because he objected to Incitec buying phosphate from Western Sahara, which is occupied by Morocco.
"There's a bit of denial of the suffering of the Western Saharan people," the shareholder said.
The shareholder said that Western Saharans suffered harassment, rape and torture.
"Incitec Pivot has benefited greatly from their suffering... ," he said.
A small group of protesters from the Australian Western Sahara Association demonstrated outside the meeting, asking Incitec to stop importing Western Saharan phosphate, which they claimed was being sold illegally by Morocco.
Mr Watson told shareholders that Incitec Pivot had been legally importing phosphate rock from a Moroccan company for 20 years, much of it mined in the Western Sahara.
"Incitec Pivot is satisfied we are not in breach of any international or Australian laws by doing this," Mr Watson said.
"The Australian Government has not prohibited trade from this region."
Mr Watson said all Australian single superphosphate manufacturers used some rock from the Western Sahara.
"The group protesting here today is urging all Australian producers to cease using this raw material," Mr Watson said.
"If producers were to do this, there would be significant consequences for Australian farmers who rely on superphosphate.
"Globally, phosphate rock is in short supply as sources are limited to a handful of countries and demand is high."
Mr Watson said Incitec had been in talks with representatives of the people of Western Sahara - including the Polisario Front - for about 18 months.
"However, it is difficult for our company to reach a conclusion about the competing claims regarding the sovereignty of the Western Sahara," he said.
"We look to international bodies such as the UN (United Nations) and our own government to guide us on these matters."
Incitec shares were 13 cents higher at $106.71 on Thursday.
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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