The following is a recap of fertilizer price trends and market developments for the month of January.
January, unsurprisingly, proved to be a slow month for any activity related to anhydrous ammonia in the U.S. Applications had been winding down with the onset of the cold and year-end holidays. Snowstorms and other wintry weather precluded any further interest in ammonia buying during what is usually a quiet period ahead of spring.
In the Corn Belt, prices did fall slightly from December highs without the pressure of end-season deliveries and a closing window of mild weather. Peak prices at the end of 2021 of $1,395 per short ton (t) free on board (or without transport costs -- FOB) were $20 short in January at a range of $1,350-$1,375.
Sellers appear to have seen little pressure to adjust offers during the winter lull. Buyers have also been closely watching crop prices in recent weeks ahead of 2022 planting season decisions, in light of a bull run on nitrogen fertilizer pricing which took off last fall.
Considering the current status of the market, prices would appear to have peaked in February with the latest and largest Tampa ammonia settlement on record, leaving us with a stable to softening short-term price outlook heading into spring.
An agreement between Yara and Mosaic for February ammonia shipments at $1,135 per metric ton (mt) cost and freight (or CFR, including freight costs) is the highest price in the history of the benchmark, according to Fertecon's price history.
It is, however, a change in tone at Tampa, following the previous $125 month-over-month increase for January shipments, a $165 increase for December, and prior to that a $160 increase for November. The most recent settlement supports suggestions the ammonia market west of the Suez has reached its peak.
When Tampa increases, there is typically a knock-on increase in contract prices in the Baltic. Prices in January had indeed moved higher by about $30 per metric ton (mt) to $1,140/mt FOB. Ammonia prices in the Black Sea saw an increase of a smaller scale, only $5-$10/mt in fact, to $1,115-$1,120 FOB.
Meanwhile, it was quiet in Asian markets in the run up to the Chinese New Year. What the future holds for the ammonia market isn't crystal clear, especially with the threat of conflict in Ukraine still looming over Europe.
If current conditions hold, our view of the global ammonia market is mostly stable in the short term, with eventual softening expected in the western world.
Urea prices in the U.S. were a rollercoaster ride in January as trader positions and talk of export cargoes presided over extreme volatility to the barge market.
New Orleans, Louisiana, (NOLA) barge trading values on urea fell 35% through January, from highs after the new year at $735/t FOB to as low as $485. Fertecon's weekly urea price assessments in January fell by just over $100 per week on average. Prices were so volatile, sometimes the weekly assessment high and low end, of over $100 variance, could trade on the same day and for the same shipment period.
Despite the large losses, the sheer volatility of pricing seemed to spook both buyers and sellers at inland and Mississippi River terminals. At these major terminals, prices fell from $810-$830/t FOB in December to $575-$630 by the end of January.
In the short term, urea is expected to continue its volatile trend without any clear domestic fundamentals to direct trading aside from a sense of healthy inventories. Closer to spring, more demand should emerge and with buyers re-engaging with the market, reasonable price levels should stabilize somewhat.
Urea experienced pronounced softness in the global market in January, with every index retreating that month. With very few outlets for tons, FOB values experienced pressure both east and west of the Suez Canal.
Brazil values, for instance, fell from over $800/mt CFR in December to $500-$590 at the end of the month on slow activity in the country after the holidays and continued concerns over dry weather impacting the winter crop there. Prices in Egypt likewise fell by over $300 from the previous month to $600-$700/mt FOB in January.
While urea prices did not yet find a floor, some bullish hopes were rekindled by expectations of an India tender announcement which did get announced at the very end of the month, which would serve to alleviate pressure, particularly for producers east of Suez.
The short-term outlook for global urea was softer as sellers chased liquidity but showed some bullishness due to India.
The UAN market received long-awaited news regarding an update in the government's import injury investigation, but even this event was not enough to catalyze much action from buyers and sellers, prompting January to end at flat values from December.
The dumping margins calculated by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) found Russian UAN had an estimated weighted average dumping margin of 9.15% to 127.19% depending on the company, and 63.08% for Trinidad. The new rates were a sharp increase from the previous rates from the DOC, which were the preliminary foreign subsidy rates issued in November 2021 ranging from 1.8% to 9.8%.
Following the news, however, CF Industries did not issue any new spring UAN numbers, leaving the wider market somewhat paralyzed without knowing the implications of the published findings.
UAN benchmarks were thus unchanged from December at $545/t FOB NOLA for prompt shipment barges.
River terminal offers were also unchanged from $590-$595/t FOB for prompt volumes and $600-$610 for later spring delivery.
Next steps in the imports case will come in June after the DOC approved requests to extend its calendar once again in January, pushing the timeline for final rates and a vote on the matter into the late summer. Until then, both of the aforementioned rates will be in effect on Russian and Trinidad UAN, at least until the smaller 1% to 9% rates expire in April.
The short-term outlook for UAN prices is stable for now, but fewer volumes from our previous top two import countries in recent history could have a firmer impact on pricing come spring demand and potentially tighter supplies. The level at which urea stabilizes, and potentially cheaper ammonia prices in the coming months, could apply some pressure for cheaper UAN to remain competitive, however.
January was a quiet month for DAP and MAP in the U.S. and saw a softening price trend with a lack of demand but ample supplies for occasional trading.
A large gap between softer U.S. phosphate prices versus the rest of the world motivated discussion about export sales, thought to have motivated a few bursts of barge buying at NOLA near the end of the month. NOLA prices ended January at $665-$675/t FOB DAP and $695-$699 MAP -- or about $60 lower on both products from December trades.
Phosphates in the U.S. beyond the Gulf Coast were extremely sluggish with little buyer interest this early in the year. Terminals along open sections of the Mississippi River ranged from $730-$755/t FOB DAP and $760-$775 MAP in January, lower from December by $30-$40/t and moving mostly in line with NOLA trades.
Besides the interest in barge buying for the purpose of exporting phosphates, the market remains quiet to begin the year but did see some firming later in the month to early February. These increases, however, are in line with trends from the previous two years, which showed stronger price gains early in the year as imports slowed.
In the short term, we see U.S. phosphate prices as mostly stable until spring demand emerges in the coming weeks and months, with barge traders as the bulk of activity until then.
As much of Asia was winding down at the end of January before the Lunar New Year holiday, activity became even more muted with little new business to report either east or west of Suez. While the month's deals in India traded at slightly firmer levels, prices in the west softened last month while seeing very little activity.
In Brazil, for instance, MAP prices were completely flat from the month prior at $850-$860/mt CFR after a quiet January in the country. India's DAP values meanwhile kicked off the new year $20 higher from December at $920-$927/mt CFR.
India is singlehandedly supporting this market at the moment, being the only major active buyer, especially with Brazilian importer in discussions with Chinese sellers which is expected to stretch on for up to two months given China's reluctance to export at the moment.
As a result, our short-term price outlook for global phosphates is firm to the east but softer in the western world.
Similar to phosphates, potash prices saw occasional movement by $5-$10/t but on the whole remained flat in January due to a lack of buying interest. News from overseas of Belarus potentially losing access to its primary seaport did not result in any panic buying, given a general sense of good inventories in U.S. warehouses, but a more cautious attitude in trading.
NOLA potash barges would fall $10-$25 by the end of the month to $660-$670/t FOB. Barge trading was largely illiquid in January with offers moving steadily lower week-over-week, until early February when a buyer finally took the plunge at a steep drop to $625/t FOB for prompt product.
Terminals lagged behind trading at the Gulf with far less buying interest in the U.S. interior, leaving offer levels only about $15 down from December to $700-$715/t FOB.
As of Feb.1, Lithuania was able to exit its contract with Belaruskali and cease potash rail shipments for export at Klaipeda. But despite around 20% of the world's potash now having an unclear pathway to major world markets, the wider global market has been slow to emerge from the holidays.
Without much new trading to indicate the impact of the situation regarding Belarus, potash prices have been mostly stable. We expect U.S. prices to follow the same trend in the short term. Some softer prices may indeed have a knock-on effect of supporting potash demand come spring, with many still concerned about the affordability of fertilizer compared to crop prices.
Editor's Note: This information was supplied courtesy of Fertecon, Agribusiness Intelligence, IHS Markit.
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