Potash Corp. Determined to Allay Local Fears and Acquire Israel Chemicals

The purchase of Israel Chemicals, which has a market cap of nearly $17 billion, would represent the largest foreign takeover of an Israeli company to date.

Canadian fertilizer producer Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan said Tuesday it is determined to buy most, if not all, of Israel Chemicals and that stiff local opposition to such a takeover is based on unfounded fears.

The purchase of Israel Chemicals, which has a market cap of nearly $17 billion, would represent the largest foreign takeover of an Israeli company to date.

Led by CEO William Doyle, Potash, the world's largest producer by capacity of the crop nutrient, is aiming to boost its 14% stake in Israel Chemicals, the world's sixth-largest potash producer, to at least 51% and preferably 100%.

"The opposition you're seeing now is fear of the unknown," Potash Corporation CFO Wayne Brownlee said in remarks at an investors conference in Florida that were distributed via webcast.

The largest shareholder in Israel Chemicals is The Israel Corporation, but the Israeli government holds a golden share as well, giving it the authority to decide on any takeover move on the company.

A spokesman for Israel Corporation said there are no talks between the companies underway because Potash Corporation has to first secure approval from the government. Brownlee said the company had not been talking with Israel Chemicals shareholders recently because a new government has yet to be formed.

Shares of ICL dropped 2.5% in Tel Aviv in heavy trading Tuesday on concerns that talks on the Potash Corporation deal had been frozen by the election and coalition talks.

Meanwhile, MK Meir Cohen (Yesh Atid ) is due to hold what he called an emergency meeting of Knesset members this morning to block the Potash takeover.

"We have to stop this sale before it's too late," Cohen said. "The country should be selling its assets. We're talking about a serious mistake that will lead to the collapse of the [economy of the] Negev and hurt the residents of the south."

Israel Chemicals employs 5,000 Negev residents, for about a fifth of the region's economic output. ICL workers have said they will hold protests in coming weeks to try to prevent a deal, which they fear will lead to layoffs.

Addressing those concerns, Brownlee said Potash doesn't want to cut production or employment at ICL.

Zvi Zrahiya and Yoram Gabison contributed to this report.

Ofer Vaknin