EuroChem Ups Stake in German Potash Maker

FRANKFURT — Russian fertilizer maker EuroChem raised its stake in German potash and salt supplier K+S on Friday, raising questions over its plans for the rival company.

EuroChem, controlled by investor Andrei Melnichenko, said earlier that it had lifted its stake in K+S to 15 percent from 10 percent.

K+S said the move made EuroChem a "strategic investor," even though the Russian company had previously described its holding as financial.

"This will revive speculation about a cooperation or even a tie-up," between the two companies, said analyst Heino Ruland of FrankfurtFinanz.

K+S shares have lost almost two-thirds of their market value from record highs in June as the financial crisis brought the boom in agricultural commodities to an abrupt end and weighed on demand for fertilizer.

A spokeswoman for EuroChem said the company had not yet decided whether to further increase its stake in K+S.

The recent drop in global stock markets had created an opportunity to buy a stake in a "good company in an industry that EuroChem knows very well," she said. "Ideas are being discussed, [but] there are no specific plans for joint projects at the moment."

K+S, which ascended to Germany's benchmark DAX Stock Index in September, also said EuroChem's move was a sign of confidence in K+S's mid- to long-term prospects.

The purchase would have cost EuroChem about 290 million euros ($375.2 million) based on K+S's closing price Thursday.