The Russian invasion of Ukraine this year suddenly brought into focus a topic that the developed world has not thought about for many decades: food security.
For example, the two countries combined provide more than a quarter of the world’s wheat.
Suddenly, western nations have had to deal with rising prices of staples and how that can lose votes in the polling booth or even ferment social unrest.
Many countries are even reviewing their own agricultural self-sufficiency.
As such, it could be worth taking a look at some ASX shares that might benefit from this renewed focus on agriculture.
“After a lost decade post-financial crisis, things are looking up for the agricultural sector,” Firetrail Investments analysts said in a recent memo to clients.
“The prices of soft commodities like corn and wheat increased over 20% in 2021, and this was before the Ukrainian conflict. Everything from fertilisers to crop chemicals and companies exposed to the sector are enjoying their most buoyant outlook in years.”
The team at Firetrail have a couple of stocks in that area that they expect to continue their outperformance:
‘Favourable seasonal conditions and tight global supply chains’
Nufarm Ltd (ASX: NUF) supplies pesticides and seeds to the agricultural sector.
Firetrail analysts told its clients in a memo that this holding has had a bumper start to 2022.
“Shares rose 30% in the quarter, buoyed by an earnings upgrade and a positive investor day that showcased the company’s longer term growth potential.”
The team also reckoned the stock price had cashed in on “general positive sentiment” for agricultural players after the breakout of war in Ukraine.
Despite the price climb, Firetrail is convinced there’s plenty of potential left in Nufarm shares.
“We see further upside from a continuation of favourable seasonal conditions and tight global supply chains.”
According to CMC Markets, 5 of 10 analysts currently rate Nufarm as a strong buy. One says moderate buy while the remaining 4 label it as hold.
Only on Monday, Nufarm chief executive Greg Hunt confirmed the company has “nascent operations” in both Ukraine and Russia.
“Our first priority has been to ensure our people in both countries are safe and supported,” he said.
“Secondary to the safety of our people, we are focused on ensuring the security of supply for our customers and continue to monitor developments closely and prepare accordingly.”
Hunt announced that the business would raise a provision of $30 to $40 million to protect itself against the “current uncertain situation” in eastern Europe.
‘Significant discount to peers’
Incitec Pivot Ltd (ASX: IPL) provides fertiliser for the farming industry.
The Firetrail Absolute Return Fund enjoyed a nice 17% rise in the Incitec share price in the first quarter, attributed to “a continued increase in fertiliser commodity prices”.
“This was borne largely by the Ukraine conflict and the region’s importance to global fertiliser exports.”
Similar to Nufarm, Firetrail analysts reckon there’s ample gains remaining.
“Despite continuing fundamental tailwinds and strong recent share price performance, Incitec still trades at a significant discount to peers and we see further upside moving forward.”
Burman Invest chief investment officer Julia Lee last month also rated Incitec Pivot shares as a buy.
“You know I’ve been a fan of fertiliser for a while, and one of the major costs of fertiliser is energy prices,” she said.
“As oil prices rise, you usually see fertiliser prices rising.”
Incitec is very popular among professionals investors, with 9 of 11 analysts rating it as a strong buy, according to CMC Markets.