DTN Fertilizer Outlook
Domestic Wholesale Fertilizer Prices Seen Mixed as Fall Application Season Winds Down
The following is a breakdown of wholesale prices and trends of the various fertilizers in November.
Illinois terminal movement slowed midway through the month due to rain, but before that the season in the Corn Belt state was said to have seen strong demand supported by higher crop prices. Ammonia application picked up in the Southern Plains, including Oklahoma, in late November as cooler weather set in while much of Texas remained warmer and drier than typical.
Domestic pricing, however, remained largely unchanged in the Corn Belt. In the lead up to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Eastern Corn Belt saw prices flat at $290 to $325 per ton (t) free-on-board (FOB) while the Western Corn Belt was assessed at $320 to $340/t, also unchanged despite reported good ammonia sales volumes for the month.
Ammonia pricing at the factory level (ex-plant, without any transport costs) was $235 to $240/t in at Verdigris in eastern Oklahoma in November, up $35 from lows in October before weather conditions improved and local farmers began their direct ammonia application activity. In Iowa, prices were reported unchanged at $320 to $330/t at Port Neal in the same period.
In the short term, we expect U.S. ammonia prices to stay stable to firm on stronger international supply and a positive sentiment from market sources for the spring application season.
Yara and Mosaic agreed on a price for the Tampa ammonia contract for December of $255 per metric ton (mt) cost and freight (CFR). This price is an increase of $20 on the $235/mt CFR agreed for November and reflects more balanced to tighter supply in the global ammonia market than seen earlier this year. The price increase at Tampa followed a higher Caribbean sale in the low $230s FOB in November and reports of a 20% gas curtailment in Trinidad in December.
Prices firmed not just in the Americas but across the globe with the Baltic supply contract price for November settled at $204 to $230, a slightly softer range but mostly unchanged compared to $205 to $225/mt CFR in October. Black Sea spot ammonia prices rose in November to $211 to $214/mt FOB from values in October at $204 to $205/mt.
The Indian ammonia market was reported to be flat late in November with pockets of spot demand reported and illustrates the larger Far Eastern ammonia market as balanced and relatively quiet. Overall, global ammonia prices are seen stable to firm in the short term.
On some support from firmer international prices following another India tender in November, domestic urea prices ended the month higher from October as values continued to follow international trends upward in part due to a quiet market in the U.S.
NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) urea ended November at $242 to $250/t FOB, sharply higher from October's price of $216 to $223/t FOB when India backed away from the market after completing an earlier purchase tender. Barge activity picked up immediately following the new tender and upon the sale's close near the end of November. Subsequently, prices began to edge back once again to the low $240s.
On open sections of the Mississippi River, terminal values also rose to $260 to $270/t FOB, a $10 to $15 increase month-over-month. With the Upper Mississippi closed for NOLA barge resupply, U.S. plant and northern terminal values also rose despite limited buyer interest.
Factory prices at Enid, Oklahoma, ended the month at $280/t, up $45 from October and in step with comparable plant prices in the Western Corn Belt. At Port Neal in Iowa, November also saw a $280/t price, which only represented a $30 increase as river close had already begun to push prices higher in October.
Now with U.S. urea prices higher and more in line with international prices, and India content to step back from the market in the short term, we expect domestic prices to be stable to potentially softer on thin liquidity in the global market. UAN is currently a more attractive source of nitrogen for the cost and may pull attention from any urea prepay through the end of the year.
The announcement of a much-anticipated Indian tender, due to be closed on Dec. 1 for shipment by Jan. 6 at the latest, provided some further support to a firming market in November. However, activity slowed down as buyers stepped back to assess the market and see how the tender would play out, with India eventually securing 1.3 million metric tons (mmt).
European buyers saw urea offers increase in the second half of November on the back of rising Egyptian prices in the near term and into Q1 2021. Prices ended November at $270 to $275 FOB Egypt, up $20 from prices in October. In Brazil, granular urea sales occurred higher at $273 to $277 CFR with offer prices increasing after the India tender announcement, compared to $250 to $256 in October.
Going forward into the final weeks of 2020, it looks to be a quiet period as those with expected awards in the India tender will focus on carrying out shipments. While producers are thought to be comfortable following a recent flurry of sales out of Egypt, prices appeared slow to rise in response to the Arab Gulf expected to ship most of product in the tender and China seemingly unwilling to export at current levels.
Our outlook on global urea is flat to firm in the short term with liquidity in contract markets likely to remain thin through December.
In November, the domestic UAN market remained quiet, a trend that continued from July when fill offers settled and with prices largely remaining flat in the months following.
NOLA UAN barges ended November at $120/t FOB, steady from October values but supported on some firmer sentiment on Q1 and Q2 2021 offers to come, which kept prices above lows of $115 seen in recent months.
At main river terminal hub markets in St. Louis and Cincinnati, UAN prices were largely flat between $145 to $155/t FOB and unchanged from October as CF kept its offers flat from fill prices. Market participants say the lack of price increases likely comes from attempts to stem the flow of imported UAN from Russian producers, who have seen rising freight rates over the past year cut into their profit margins.
Similar to New Orleans and Mississippi River markets, the U.S. East Coast saw largely stagnant prices at $145 to $150/mt CFR, unchanged from sales in October.
Appreciating fertilizer prices across the board over the Thanksgiving holiday saw some firmness in UAN as well with reported rising NOLA barge sales in December, indicating greater confidence in medium-term pricing inching into the nearby. We expect UAN values to stay stable with the potential to firm further in December and January, with more attractive prices relative to urea and budding anticipation of a strong spring season.
Phosphate prices in the U.S. jumped in November amid the Department of Commerce's (DOC) announcement on Nov. 24 of its preliminary determinations in the countervailing duty (CVD) investigations into imports of phosphate fertilizers from Morocco and Russia. Moroccan imports face duties at 23.5% while Russian-based product ranged from nearly 21% to as high as 72.5% ahead of the DOC's final determinations to come in February.
November saw warmer than average temperatures and continued high demand, especially in the Corn Belt, as long sustained application windows cleared warehouse inventories and drove prices higher. NOLA barge prices for DAP increased to $360 to $375/t FOB after ending October at $354 to $360/t FOB. NOLA MAP rose $5 to $375 to $390 on fewer trades than DAP throughout the month as availability remained extremely scarce.
The scramble for in-season phosphates was reflected more in shorter availabilities rather than overall price increases at open river terminals proportional to NOLA, with November prices ending unchanged from October at $395 to $405/t FOB for DAP and $410 to $430/t FOB MAP. MAP continues to hold a significant premium to DAP is it remained in much tighter supply with some in the market expecting.
November saw no mention of fill programs from North American producers as fall demand carried well past Thanksgiving and into December, with volumes now applied likely supplanting volumes that would have sold in the spring. Some market participants said they had achieved small fill volumes at discounts to prompt, and any fill sales through the end of the year are expected to take a similar form in direct, lower volume offerings.
In the short term, we expect U.S. phosphate prices to stay stable to firm ahead of the next CVD announcement in February as final determination deadlines approach. Import supply will likely remain below average into Q1 2021 with Moroccan and Russian phosphates effectively under tariff in the form of mandatory deposits to U.S. customs upon receipt but the final duty rate can still change before formal implementation in April.
Phosphate prices in the Western Hemisphere are supported by strong order books for December and buyers in North America and Europe stepping into a rising market, whereas suppliers in the Middle East have accepted lower DAP prices on sales into India.
Brazil MAP prices ended November at $275/mt CFR, up $7 to $8 from the previous month as the market was quieter at the end of the month with soybean crop requirements mostly covered. Indian DAP concluded at $365/mt CFR, erasing gains in October by $5 to $10 month-over-month with the DAP market approaching the tail end of the main shipping season to meet rabi (winter crop season) requirements.
On the international scale, DAP/MAP prices at the end of November seemed to be approaching a ceiling, with any downside likely be tempered by solid order books and rising material costs.
The fall squeeze on potash continued from October and remained strong through the entirety of November. Demand was driven by fair weather allowing heavy application in the Corn Belt in a reverse of the trend of wet, cold winters of the previous two years, in addition to 2020 seeing lower prices than both 2019 and 2018. Strong crop prices and other boosts to farmer income only further exaggerated the strength we see in the potash market.
NOLA potash barge values moved higher to $235 to $236/t FOB ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, compared to $215 to $220 at the end of October. Prompt and upriver barge availability continued to pale in comparison to demand with producers and importers struggling to keep up.
Terminal prices along open sections of the Mississippi River rose alongside barge values to $265 to $295/t FOB before Thanksgiving, up $30 to $45 per ton from October listings. Terminals in the Midsouth continued to see lower prices on average with a late start to its fall/winter applications while other locations including Cincinnati, St. Louis and Inola, Oklahoma, saw granular potash prices only as low as $280.
In the short term, our outlook on U.S. potash is firm as buying and applications stretched well into December and North American producers further raised prices in early December on continued strong demand.
Editor's Note: This information was supplied courtesy of Fertecon, Agribusiness Intelligence, IHS Markit.
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