DTN Fertilizer Outlook

Delayed Start to Application Season Pressures Wholesale Fertilizer Prices in April

Tight supply and the ramping up of end-user demand continued to support DAP barge prices in April, with trades seen as high as $390 per ton at New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) for prompt delivery during the last week of the month, compared to $380 to $385 last month. (Chart courtesy of Fertecon, Informa Agribusiness Intelligence)

Here is a breakdown of wholesale prices and trends of the various fertilizers:

AMMONIA

International:

Global ammonia prices moved softer in the west through April and firmer in the east where plant turnarounds and outages helped to tighten the market.

CFR (cost and freight) prices in the Far East moved up to $330 on spot sales to Japan and South Korea. Some tightness is still anticipated with another turnaround planned for May in Indonesia and a three to four week outage in Egypt.

The May Tampa contract between Yara and Mosaic settled at a $20 drop to $255 CFR, a fall of $100 in total now since the January price was settled at $355. Conversely, Mitsubishi paid $285 FOB (free on board -- the buyer pays for transportation of the goods) in the U.S. Gulf for a June-load cargo -- the first export cargo seen from CF out of the U.S. since December.

The Yara/BASF plant in Texas is close to seeing exports with both parties celebrating the opening on April 11. First exports are expected in May.

There is much confusion in the market as to the trend going forward. Tampa has shown another fall, but maybe this is the bottom.

Domestic:

Domestic ammonia prices moved lower in April despite increasing preplant applications in the Corn Belt. The delayed start to the application season appears to have put suppliers in an uncomfortable position, and we are seeing sellers become more aggressive with pricing in order to capture remaining demand.

Corn Belt FOB prices ended the month $405 to 425 per ton (t) FOB, down from $405 to $450 in March, with the highs in the east and lows in the west.

Prices in the Southern Plains are softening as preplant applications begin to wrap up. Ex-Oklahoma-plant values are currently around $365/t, down from $385 to $390 last month.

The short-term outlook is soft. Prices are set to decline in the coming weeks as the international market remains stable to weak for now and domestic spring demand looks like it will underperform expectations. Significantly lower prices are expected for summer fill.

UREA

International:

India bought over 1 million metric tons (mmt) in its latest tender, but this failed to firm global urea prices. The tender exposed weakness in the market with suppliers accepting lower FOB values to place cargoes from Algeria, Egypt and Russia.

Arab Gulf producers have been sitting relatively more comfortable with Chinese metric tons still mostly absent from the export market. Yet, even here, FOB values are down to $235 to $243 per metric ton (mt) compared to $251 to $257 at the end of March.

Slow demand from Europe, the U.S. and Brazil has left North African producers with no option other than to send cargoes to India at lower FOB values. FOB values are down to $230 to $240 per mt, from $248 to $254 in March.

Unless some production is cut back, supply looks to outweigh demand in the upcoming months and further downside to all benchmarks is expected.

Domestic:

The domestic market was slow for most of April due to the late emergence of spring in many regions. Activity began to pick up by the end of month, but by this time, prices had already started their downward move.

NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana) barges traded at $220 to $225/t FOB during the last week of the month, down from $234 to $242 in March. Imports are beginning to slow now, and domestic producers have already begun looking to export markets. A trader has sold 30,000 t from the U.S. into Chile to net back to $240/mt FOB for May shipment.

River terminal prices are around $260 to $265/t FOB, down $10 to $15 from the end of March. Producers were suffering with containment issues due to the spring season being delayed, and ex-plant values became very aggressive for a brief period during April, especially from new production points. Some FOB values were reported lower at $245. However, producers have since brought prices back up to around $260 to $270 after taking sales at the lower level.

The near-term outlook for urea prices is mostly stable. We expect that NOLA prices will be supported around current levels through the next few weeks before softening again later in the season.

UAN

UAN prices held mostly stable in April but are under some pressure due to the delayed season as well as the softening in urea prices. One silver lining in the UAN market is the expectation that some nitrogen demand will have to be shifted to UAN because of the shortened window for ammonia preplant application.

Terminal activity in the Midwest started to pick up toward the end of April as shipments began to move out to retailers ahead of applications. River terminal prices are holding with 32% prices mostly unchanged in the $200-to-$220/t FOB range. Ex-plant values are biddable with some producers nervous about being long supply. Trades were reported as low as $220/t FOB Port Neal, Iowa, off $10 to $15 from March. Prices at Wever, Iowa, were around $200/t FOB.

NOLA barge trade was illiquid in April. New demand is very limited with most buyers comfortable with inventories and unwilling to book further tons at this price level. Price indications are down $5 from March to $180/t FOB.

The short-term outlook for UAN prices is stable to soft. With urea weak, further price increases look unlikely.

PHOSPHATES

International:

The major activity in the phosphate market centered on the Indian subcontinent with almost 1 mmt DAP booked by India and Pakistan in April. This sizeable volume permitted prices to increase slightly to $427 to $432 CFR from the mid-$420s CFR in India, improving returns for Moroccan, Saudi Arabian, and Chinese suppliers.

The commissioning of JPH-4 in Morocco has been pushed back to June/July from previous expectations of April. This has tightened up the supply-and-demand balance for the second quarter but remains a bearish factor for the third quarter.

A pick-up in U.S. domestic demand helped keep Mosaic product onshore, supporting Tampa DAP/MAP export values around $400 to $410/mt FOB, steady from the end of March.

Strong May export sales books for producers in the east are expected to hold prices stable to firm in the short term. On the other hand, in the absence of a substantial increase in Brazilian demand, the tone of the market in the west remains soft, and prices will likely ease following the end of the U.S. season.

Domestic:

Tight supply and the ramping up of end-user demand continued to support DAP barge prices in April, seeing trades as high as $390/t NOLA for prompt delivery during the last week of the month, compared to $380 to $385 last month. However, product for May loading is now available as low as $377.

On the contrary, prompt MAP barge prices have declined to $377 to $385, a discount to DAP, as the product is in better supply both at the barge and terminal levels.

River terminal DAP prices are generally up about $5 from last month to around $415/t FOB while MAP prices have declined to values even with DAP. End-user demand in the Corn Belt was slow to start the season but has been picking up over the past 10 days. There have been some reports of spot DAP outages, and some switching to MAP is expected due to the price and availability.

The outlook for DAP prices continues to be stable to firm in the very short term on the back of tight supply and the ramping up of end-user demand. Expect some softening of MAP prices, especially at the terminal level, as well as weaker DAP prices this summer.

POTASH

Domestic potash prices were mostly unchanged in April. The market is mostly in execution mode as preplant applications ramp up across the Midwest. There are few new sales as additional needs surface, but is quiet for the most part, with both buyers and sellers comfortable in the short term.

River terminal values held steady at $265 to $275/t FOB, depending on local supply and demand. Producers are holding firm to their $290/t FOB inland warehouse target.

NOLA barge prices inched up to $237 to $240/t FOB at the end of the month, compared to $235 to $240 in March.

The outlook for domestic potash prices is stable with an undertone of softness. Flat or possibly lower prices are looking likely for summer fill. But this depends on the success of the spring season and if K&S Bethune granular tons start making their way into the U.S.

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

(BAS/AG)