DTN Fertilizer Outlook

Domestic Wholesale Fertilizer Prices Fall as Planting Delays Reduce Demand

Urea prices on New Orleans, Louisiana, barges fell sharply in April. With the prime spring demand period for fertilizer delayed past April, traders who were holding barges and expecting an India tender announcement caused values to fall and rebound by over $100 multiple times in the past month. On a lack of demand within the U.S. itself, prices softened on the whole alongside other world markets, which also saw prices tumble in April. (Chart courtesy of Fertecon, Agribusiness Intelligence, IHS Markit)

The following is a recap of fertilizer price trends and market developments for the month of April.

AMMONIA

Domestic:

April remained a largely uneventful month for ammonia activity in the U.S. as a mix of wintry conditions and poor weather, ranging from too dry to too wet for ammonia application, precluded the widespread spring preplant ammonia run from occurring.

Despite the Tampa settlement for April having risen nearly $500 over the March price to $1,625 per metric ton (mt) cost and freight (CFR -- or the price including transportation costs), domestic ammonia prices were steady last month.

Corn Belt ammonia volumes continued to be offered from $1,450-$1,550 per short ton (t) free-on-board (FOB -- or the sale price without consideration of transportation costs) -- flat from offers in March.

In Oklahoma, Verdigris increased its ammonia prices $25 to $1,300/t FCA (free carrier -- requires the seller to deliver goods to a location specified by the buyer) for spring pull, while a sale was heard from Woodward at $1,225, $50 lower from offers heard in March. Texas and Oklahoma did see some limited ammonia activity in April, while the center of the country saw the slowest uptake.

Also in April, fertilizer producer Incitec Pivot restarted its ammonia plant at Waggaman, Louisiana, after shutting it down in February following an incident in which a section of a pipe ruptured, releasing hydrogen. The ammonia plant is operating at its full capacity of 800,000 mt per year, it says.

With the preplant season curtailed by extended poor weather to kick off spring, demand is expected to be somewhat reduced in May and June, with prices to potentially soften once the season ends.

International:

Global ammonia continues to reel from the effects of the conflict in Ukraine, with Fertecon's Black Sea and Baltic prices now both assessed as "no-market" in lieu of the lack of spot activity in both regions. April was marked by inactivity in the weeks that followed the market digesting the loss of Russian product but with uncertainty somewhat lower following a full month since the conflict began.

The highlight of April was the $200 decrease at Tampa, where Yara and Mosaic agreed on a price of $1,425 for May. This is down from the $1,625 CFR Tampa the parties agreed for April and the first month-on-month decrease since September 2021.

The Tampa price for May reflects $1,364-$1,374 FOB Caribbean based on our latest cost of freight estimates. Caribbean prices thus moved lower from $1,568-$1,590 in March.

In the east, it appears supplier expectations and buyer price ideas are far from aligned. Indonesia closed a tender for 15,000 t, targeting a repeat of the $1,125 FOB paid recently in Southeast Asia. However, it failed to attract interest, only reported to receive a bid of $1,035 FOB.

With two major benchmarks now too illiquid to assess, the global ammonia market is mixed between firmer and softer signals and seeking direction.

UREA

Domestic:

Urea barge prices at New Orleans, Louisiana, (NOLA) saw a volatile month in April. Prices ended the month at $620-$720/t FOB, down significantly from the $900-$945 price range in May as India waited until the end of the month to issue its major purchase tender.

While traders awaited the tender, barge values tended to yo-yo throughout April, sometimes losing $100 in just a few days, only to rebound later that week.

Urea offers at terminals along the Mississippi River moved with NOLA prices to some degree, but poor weather having hampered planting ensured domestic demand was low outside the U.S. Gulf. Prices including for areas like St. Louis, Tulsa, Cincinnati and the Twin Cities, ranged from $675-$780 during the last week of April during one such price swing -- down from $935-$950 in March.

Late in March, the U.S. government made an exception for fertilizer and other agricultural goods in recently enacted sanctions against Russia, which created an opening for vessels carrying Russian products to return to U.S. shores. Nitrogen fertilizer quotas from Russia, however, reduced urea available for the U.S., alongside other shipping complications.

With India now back in the picture as a buyer, there is some potential for firming urea prices. But with what is left of the planting season still ahead, local demand for urea, or the lack thereof, may play a larger role. Talk of re-export cargoes in recent months could also mean less urea is available than previously imported.

International:

Global urea price slid lower in April as interest from the buy side was frozen, apart from India's tender, which attracted some competitive offers.

Prices in Brazil fell from $750-$820/mt CFR, lower from $900-$950 in the previous month on discounted Russian volumes offered into the country. Brazil is currently in-between planting seasons, and demand isn't expected to emerge until July.

In Egypt, meanwhile, prices in April were achieved from $850-$890/mt FOB, sharply lower from March prices of $1,120-$1,130. Export prices from the country dropped alongside other world prices and a slow period following several world holidays in April.

With the arrival of a much-needed big buyer like India in the market, prices could now reach a floor. If both Brazil and the U.S. step in to purchase in parallel with fresh Indian demand, we could even see stronger prices going forward.

UAN

Following the trend of other nitrogen fertilizers, UAN prices in April were largely flat with little in the way of demand ahead of peak spring activity.

Barge prices remained at a range of $620-$630/t FOB, unchanged on the low end but up $10 on the high compared to March offers.

River terminal volumes, meanwhile, rose $5-$10 with U.S. producers increasing prices at most locations, posted at $655-$665/t FOB for UAN 32% in St. Louis and $665 at minimum in Cincinnati for spring tons. Ahead of prompt demand in spring, the river terminal market often becomes divorced from NOLA, as most buyers look for closer shipping points than the U.S. Gulf to start application as soon as possible.

April also saw the U.S. Department of Commerce revise its preliminary antidumping rate for Trinidad-sourced UAN to 111.64%, up from a previous determination of 63.08%. Import injury investigations are still ongoing, with more news expected in June regarding final rates from the DOC.

U.S. UAN prices are expected to remain flat through the spring with possible reductions if urea and ammonia costs remain lower on a nitrogen basis, with a stronger softening effect likely after spring.

PHOSPHATES

Domestic:

Phosphate prices in April softened on the whole as extended delays to preplant applications pulled away much expected spring demand, and barge trade cooled down from March.

NOLA DAP was assessed at $880-$895/t FOB, down sharply from the previous month values when DAP surpassed $1,000/t FOB on increased trading activity despite quiet domestic fundamentals. MAP prices were similarly assessed more than $100 lower, month-over-month, trading down to $870-$895/t FOB.

River terminal phosphate offers fell lower alongside the falling barge values but to a lesser degree, with DAP seen from $950-$980/t FOB and MAP $975-$980. For their part, DAP prices were reduced by $10-$50/t from the previous month. MAP continues to vary based on DAP price movement, eventually pulling back a small premium over DAP despite less trade, compared to more wild volatility in March.

Around this time last year, summer fill buying had already begun on phosphates in the $530-$535/t FOB DAP range for NOLA barges. Some in the market began looking toward fill buying in lieu of the current poor spring preplant demand conditions present, but sellers have had little incentive to grant discounts this early in the crop year by comparison.

As mentioned before, delays to spring planting sapped demand from phosphates by narrowing the preplanting period. We expect phosphate prices to soften somewhat, with support possible from the global market should more firming occur.

International:

Prices for phosphates are under pressure in a quiet market, with falling values west of the Suez Canal spearheaded primarily by traders unwinding positions to lock in profit and attributed in some cases to indexing activity.

While the Indian government approved an increase in the subsidy for P&K fertilizers for the Kharif (autumn) season in April, fresh DAP purchases continue to be hampered. Producers had not felt significant pressure to sell cargoes, leaving prices unchanged from March at $920-$926/mt CFR.

The Brazilian MAP market, meanwhile, saw prices slip further in April to $1,220-$1,250 CFR from highs of $1,300 CFR in the prior month on slow activity. A sale was also reported down to $1,100 CFR but was considered to be an indexing effort and not reflective of market prices.

The outlook regarding global phosphate prices is soft, with India and the Americas expected to hold back in the coming weeks and put prices under further pressure.

POTASH

Potash suffered a similar, softer fate as phosphates in April, but with less of a bullish trader market at NOLA, values softened with little resistance.

NOLA potash barge prices fell to $790-$800/t FOB, down from $810-$835 in March. Fears over short supplies with Russia and Belarus pausing exports were somewhat assuaged with Canadian potash volumes offered at lower prices, equivalent to $760/t FOB NOLA price levels for May and June shipping barges.

River terminal offers have also weakened to lows of $795, down from $800-$815 in March. Despite terminal offers priced at near NOLA levels, prices moved down slowly in April with little pressure from the aforementioned Canadian tons, based on the slow buying activity overall. Extraordinary slowness in the market is likely to blame for the odd spread, considering how much activity would typically be observed at this time of year.

Increasing spring demand yet to come could issue some corrections and align potash prices on the North American continent, which in and of itself, is also divorced from price levels in Brazil and other destination markets.

With Russia now poised to return to U.S. markets after easing sanctions, and one vessel having already arrived in April, supplies are expected to be ample in the country for the spring push that is left. Fill offers will likely follow the season as well and could see prices fall lower, further explaining the lack of buying we see today.

**

Editor's Note: This information was supplied courtesy of Fertecon, Agribusiness Intelligence, IHS Markit.