TEL AVIV, May 10 (Reuters) - Israel Chemicals (ICL) on Thursday reported higher revenue and profit for the first quarter, boosted by a capital gain and increased potash sales at the world's sixth-largest producer of the fertiliser ingredient.
ICL, which also produces about a third of the world's bromine, said it earned $928 million, compared with $68 million a year earlier. Excluding a capital gain from the $1 billion divestment of its fire safety and oil additives business, ICL earned $106 million in the quarter.
Revenue grew to $1.4 billion from $1.3 billion, driven primarily by an increase of $28 per tonne in potash prices.
Analysts had forecast ICL to earn $106.5 million on revenue of $1.4 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
ICL said its divestment proceeds led to a $768 million reduction in net debt, creating financial flexibility to support growth.
"These results were supported by the positive potash environment and the growth of our specialty fertilisers business line," said Acting CEO Asher Grinbaum, who will be replaced by Raviv Zoller in the next few days.
ICL's potash production rose to 1.16 million tonnes in the quarter from 1.06 million a year earlier, while potash sales grew to 1.11 million tonnes from 1.01 million.
ICL noted the growing role of precision agriculture, which enables farmers to increase and improve their yields at lower costs.
To this end, ICL said it will invest in additional research and development and is evaluating various investments, from investments in funds and establishment of a venture capital fund to direct investment in startups to offer new products geared to precision agriculture.
ICL, which has exclusive rights in Israel to mine minerals from the Dead Sea, said it would pay a first quarter dividend of $52 million or 4 cents a share, down from $70 million, or 5 cents a share, in the fourth quarter. (Reporting by Tova Cohen Editing by Steven Scheer and Elaine Hardcastle)