Sinofert Holdings, the fertiliser unit of mainland oil trader Sinochem Corp, expects to complete one to two acquisitions of minority stakes in nitrogenous fertiliser makers this year, chief executive Du Keping says. Sinofert, China's largest fertiliser distributor, will take stakes of less than 10 per cent to form supplier-distributor alliances as part of its strategy to expand sales volume, he said. 'We aim to use small stake investments to secure long-term, stable and large procurement volumes,' he said, adding the firm was in talks with several acquisition targets in Jilin, Jiangsu and Shandong provinces. Sinofert preferred buying into listed companies for higher liquidity of their equities, as well as those with advanced technology and retail networks that complemented its own, Mr Du said. All the acquisition targets produce nitrogenous fertiliser from coal. 'Coal is more competitive as a feedstock due to its abundance in China while rising gas prices are eroding the competitiveness of gas-based producers,' Mr Du said. Coal-using producers make up 60 per cent of national nitrogenous fertiliser output, compared with 30 per cent using gas as feedstock. The rest use heavy oil. Sinofert last year paid 130 million yuan for a 4.7 per cent stake in Shenzhen-listed Shandong Luxi Chemical, China's largest coal-based nitrogenous fertiliser maker, and 112.5 million yuan for a 4.5 per cent stake in Shanghai-listed Shandong Hualu Hengsheng, also a coal user. Sinofert has made a total paper profit of 382.15 million yuan on its investments in these two firms, based on their closing price on Friday. Shandong Luxi granted Sinofert exclusive rights to distribute nitrogenous fertilisers it produced in Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning and Jiangsu provinces. Shandong Luxi in return promised to buy at least 70 per cent of its potash needs from Sinofert, the mainland's largest importer of potash, potassium salt used to make potash fertiliser. Securing the strategic partnerships helped Sinofert increase its nitrogenous fertiliser sales volume by 105 per cent to 3.71 million tonnes last year, more than offsetting a 24.5 per cent fall in potash fertiliser sales to 3.89 million tonnes due to protracted potash procurement negotiations with overseas suppliers. Sinofert last week posted a 14.9 per cent rise in net profit to HK$896.24 million, thanks to a 12.5 per cent increase in overall sales volume to 12.57 million tonnes. Mr Du said the company also planned to buy minority stakes in pesticide and plant seed producers. These products had a fragmented market with the top 10 players having less than a 10 per cent share of sales, he said. Seed sales in China amounted to about 25 billion yuan last year, compared with 66 billion yuan for pesticides, said chief financial officer Zhang Baohong. Sinofert aims to expand its sales points to 2,000 by the end of next year from 1,375 at the end of last year, covering all mainland counties and towns.