ICL brings Dead Sea's resources to the world

ICL underwent a major transformation in '92, when the gov't sold the control of the company to private hands.

Dead Sea good 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dead Sea good 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel is not well known for possessing natural resources. Unlike other countries in the region, it has little energy reserves, relatively few mines and a minimum of arable land. However, the case of ICL shows that the country is adept at making the most of those few resources it does possess. ICL benefits from direct access to some of the world's most concentrated sources of minerals - especially potash, phosphate rock and bromine. The company is one of the world's largest producers of potash (about 9% of world production) and an integrated producer of a variety of products based on phosphate rock, including phosphate fertilizers, phosphoric acid and specialty fertilizers. The company not only produces mineral-based products crucial to modern agriculture and other applications, but maximizes the economic potential of these resources by adding value in processing and manufacturing the final product. ICL underwent a major transformation in 1992, when the government sold the control of the company to private hands. "This was a very dramatic change from government administration, with all that entails, to transparent public management," said ICL President and CEO Akiva Mozes at a Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) ceremony last September which crowned ICL as one of the country's model companies. The decision of the TASE cited ICL as a model for the conversion of a government-held company into a world-class business. Last week, ICL celebrated being awarded the TASE's model company award with an impressive market-opening ceremony in Dimona, which is home to a large part of ICL's workforce. "We are a truly global company," Mozes told The Jerusalem Post last week. "ICL not only sells 95% of its products abroad, but also produces about half of its products abroad, with facilities in all the continents other than Africa." "We analyze things from a global perspective. We compare ourselves to the peers in our industry abroad, because there are no peers of a comparable business and scale in Israel," said Mozes. Today, ICL is one of the most important companies in Israel, with its stock the most traded on the TASE, and its market capitalization of some $11 billion the second largest in Israel. Starting in 2007 and into the beginning of 2008, ICL benefited from strong demand and higher prices for its fertilizer products due to dramatic increases in the production of fertilizer-intensive crops. This came in response to the growing demand for grains in emerging countries due to the increase in population, the increase in the standard of living and improved diets, as well as the rise of biofuels. The period of high prices led to a skyrocketing of the stock prices of fertilizer companies around the globe. ICL was particularly well positioned to take advantage of the upturn because it had been able, due to its virtually unlimited storage capacity at the Dead Sea, to stockpile inventory through the market's 2006 downturn. Prices have since drawn back sharply, but ICL has sustained impressive profit levels and has continued to distribute solid dividends to shareholders, according to a recent report by Clal Finance analysts. The company is the world leader in bromine production, which is found at the Dead Sea at the highest concentration in the world, making it particularly cheap to extract. The chemical is used in flame retardants, oil and gas drilling fluids and in water treatment biocides. The chemicals industry has long been notorious for polluting and harming the environment, but ICL has revolutionized its approach to environmental protection over the past few years, making some of its most significant infrastructure investments in that area. One of ICL's most significant environmental decisions was the shift from using oil at its facilities to natural gas, a less polluting fuel. "We've taken many steps forward," said Mozes. "We are now up to the standards of American and European regulation. In fact, if you compare us to similar potash manufacturers overseas we are even more advanced in our environmental standards." As one of the Negev's largest employers, ICL has invested in the region's community, with dozens of youth centers in underprivileged towns not only financed by the corporation but staffed by volunteers from among the company's employees who tutor children after work hours.