KANSAS CITY (B)--Analyst upgrades suggesting that the long-slumping U.S. fertilizer market may have finally hit bottom sent shares of two companies higher in relatively heavy activity Jan. 3.

In morning trading shares of Mississippi Chemical Co. gained more than 30% and Terra Industries climbed more than 50% after both were upgraded to strong buy from market perform by Deutsche Banc Alex Brown.

Companies across the fertilizer sector have been hit by a sluggish U.S. agricultural economy that has reduced farmer buying power in addition to worldwide fertilizer oversupply that has pushed prices lower. Numerous fertilizer makers implemented production cutbacks last year in an attempt to address the oversupply issue.

Deutsche Banc analyst Robert Koort said he believes the sector may have hit bottom and fertilizer prices will start to stabilize this year. He said the companies may be primed to start what will be a slow rebound heading to a peak sometime in 2003.

"Now is the time" to buy, Koort said, noting that shares of both companies are trading far off their mid-1990s levels.

Shares of Mississippi Chemical Co. moved as high as 8 1/4 Jan. 3 after closing Dec. 31's session at 6 3/16. The Yazoo City, MS-based fertilizer maker's stock has been in an almost uninterrupted decline since early in 1997, when it was trading as high as $27 per share.

Shares of Sioux City, Iowa-based Terra Industries moved as high as 2 3/4 Jan. 3 after closing Dec. 31 at 1 9/16. The company's shares were trading near $15 in early 1997.

The upgrades, which are the first good news in some time for the fertilizer industry, may have also helped boost the shares of companies not mentioned by Koort.

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