• Citic CLSA expressed interest in Pampa Calichera stake
  • Oro Blanco invited bids this month for its Calichera holdings

Shares of companies tied to Soc. Quimica & Minera de Chile SA surged after Citic Securities Co. said it may seek to buy a stake in one of the firms through which Chilean billionaire Julio Ponce controls the lithium and fertilizer producer.

Soc. de Inversiones Pampa Calichera SA jumped 28 percent to a two-year high of 495 pesos as of 11:10 a.m. in Santiago, while Soc. de Inversiones Oro Blanco SA increased 12 percent and Norte Grande SA advanced 13 percent. SQM’s more liquid B shares rose 2 percent.

Citic CLSA Securities, a unit of Hong Kong-based Citic Securities International Co., expressed interest in buying Oro Blanco’s stake in Pampa Calichera, Oro Blanco said in a filing to the local regulator Monday. Oro Blanco said Dec. 18 it hired Banco Itau Argentina to find bidders for its stake in Calichera.

"We see this as a positive for SQM, as it shows the interest of many companies for its high-quality assets," Credicorp Capital said in a note to clients Tuesday.

Once the son-in-law of the late dictator Augusto Pinochet, Ponce built up his stake in SQM after it was sold by the Chilean government starting in the 1980s. In 2006, he fended off an attempt by Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. to gain control of SQM by signing a pact with Kowa Co. Pampa Calichera directly and indirectly holds 23 percent of SQM.

In September, Ponce resigned as chairman and director of the four holding companies, citing personal reasons. SQM is embroiled in a tax and political campaign-funding investigation and a dispute with the Chilean government over its leases in the Atacama salt flat, a lunar-like landscape containing 29 percent of the world’s known lithium reserves. Ponce stepped down as SQM chairman in April after the company admitted to evading taxes on $11 million of payments. Prosecutors are investigating how much of that was channeled to politicians.

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