Potash Corp of Saskatchewan reported a weaker than anticipated outlook this year, as CEO Bill Doyle observed that 4Q13 “was a challenger quarter.”

“Pricing headwinds, most notably in potash persisted as global markets struggled to find stability,” Doyle told analysts during a conference call Thursday.

“Although we witnessed potash demand begin to return in certain regions, most notably in North America, where fall application was underway, limited buyer engagement in contract markets kept offshore shipments at muted levels,” he said. “In this environment, prices eroded and put pressure on gross margin for both the quarter and the full year.”

Nevertheless, this year, Doyle sees “a landscape that underpins growth in global fertilizer consumption.”

Record crop production “has led to a significant agronomic to replenish essential soil nutrients,” said the company.

“As farmers around the globe look ahead to the upcoming growth season, purchasing activity is strengthened,” Doyle suggested. With all key markets engaged, including recently signed contracts with China for the first half, we believe that the conditions in place today could support record or near record global shipments of 55 million to 57 million tonnes in 2014.

“We anticipate especially robust first half shipments and we are already seeing this unfold with Canpotex and PotashCorp’s volume commitments,” Doyle predicted.

PotashCorp expects potash demand to be strong in North America, while China’s annual potash imports are expected to improve slightly above 2013 levels.

“We expect our 2014 potash sales volumes to approximate 8.2-8.6 million tonnes,” said the company. “While this estimate assumes a benefit from higher anticipated global shipments, it will be partially offset by reduced sales from our New Brunswick facility (the result of a temporary reduction in operational capability) and a slightly lower Canpotex allocation for the first half of 2014 compared to a close of 2013.”

PotashCorp forecast first-quarter 2014 net income per share of 30-cents to 35-cents and full year earnings of $1.40 to $1.80 per share.

The company reported fourth-quarter earnings of 26-cents per share or $230 million, which included a $60 million charge for severance-related costs associated with workforce reductions. This compares to fourth-quarter 2012 earnings of 48-cents per share or $421 million.

Earnings for full-year 2013 earnings were $2.04 per share, down from $2.37 per share in 2012.