US river terminals along open stretches of the Mississippi had raised urea offers from $575-630 in January to $605-635/t FOB before some terminals cut prices at the end of the month in the early days of the Ukraine conflict.
Concerns over import inventory build-up and low winter buying interest had caused urea prices to fall sharply in the first month of 2022, but disruptions to nitrogen transport and production in Eastern Europe pushed prices higher in the days and weeks after the conflict began in Ukraine .
Urea prices are seen as firmer in the short term due to unprecedented disruptions in the global export market, with impact likely to extend into the medium or longer term.
Urea markets – particularly those west of the Suez Canal – received a boost after the invasion of Ukraine, fueled largely by rising gas prices and uncertainties over supplies should further sanctions be imposed on the attacker by the international community.
Ahead of the Ukrainian developments, prices in Brazil had consolidated on a slow start to 2022 with urea values of $550-580/t cfr compared to the broader range of $500-590 in January. In Egypt, on the other hand, prices rose on steady sales, giving more opportunity for activity compared to Brazil, with prices estimated at $600-730/t FOB, up $30/t month-on-month.
In February, however, it was still too early to say if the newfound strength would last and how quickly and to what extent it would affect global commodities, crude oil and cargo, given the far-reaching impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict as well as to European nitrates and other fertilizers.
Global urea prices are seen as firm with the formal imposition of sanctions on major Russian nitrate companies announced in March, as well as major shipping companies that have taken earlier steps to curb business in Russian ports.
The UAN market in the US remained calm in February as the market awaited new price levels following January’s news of import infringement lawsuits against UAN solutions from Russia and Trinidad.
On February 17, CF announced a UAN tender to close on February 22 at 5:00 p.m. US EST. CF accepted bids for UAN open to all sources, modes of transport and shipping timeframes, including bids well into the future.
However, when news of the Russian invasion of Ukraine hit the market on the day CF was scheduled to announce its results, the company delayed its bid. CF would eventually announce on March 3rd that over 200,000t of HAN had been booked, with 72% of the booked volume booked for immediate shipment. The company said a majority has been booked from its Donaldsonville facility and no accepted bids or sale prices have been disclosed.
NOLA UAN for the month was priced $5 higher from January as no new sales were reported at $545/t FOB. Earlier barge bids in March were reported at $560/t FOB and April volumes at $575.
UAN sellers at US river terminals had lowered their prices from CF’s tender results, with the pre-draw price level unchanged from the previous month at $590-610/t FOB, depending on Q1 or Q2 shipments.
No new sales were reported on the US east coast either, with new sales largely absent in Russia after higher rates were announced in the preliminary import damage investigations. East Coast prices were previously estimated at the $660/mt CFR mark.
The market as a whole was put on hold to see what the new developments would mean for fertilizers, including possible fertilizer-related sanctions against Russia. In the short term, US nitrogen was largely quiet, but price hikes were as good as expected and would arrive in March.
February was a month marked by firming prices for DAP and MAP as trading interest in the ammonium phosphate past was broadly lifted before inventory concerns pushed prices even higher.
NOLA DAP and MAP were both valued at $770-$775 at the end of February, almost $100 up from January when prices closed at $665-$675 DAP and $695-$699 MAP. Interest in DAP trading appeared to explode amid tightening supplies in the US as spring approached, pulling MAP readings higher with it, although the latter felt supplies were much more readily available.
Volumes at river terminals also increased with barges in the US Gulf, albeit to a lesser extent due to good levels of DAP barge trading but little inland sales activity for phosphates in January. Prices were seen on open stretches of the Mississippi at $795-805/t FOB DAP and $805-815/t MAP – higher than the previous month at $755 DAP and $775 MAP.
However, many terminals withdrew their bids at the end of the month on news from Ukraine and expected sanctions on Russian exports to push prices much higher. With that in place and no apparent relief on the upside in sight, we view phosphates as firm in the near-term.
Demand for phosphates has increased dramatically in South America as Brazilian importers scramble to book product prompted by rising soybean prices and volumes increasingly fielded as blenders try to cover their sales.
MAP prices increased accordingly to $900-905/t cfr NOLA from $850-860 in January.
East of the Suez Canal, DAP importers in India appeared to be taking a breather as prices fell $5 from January to $920-$927/t cfr, but latent demand remained.
The Ukraine conflict is adding to the market’s dismay caused by the intensification of the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s importance as an international supplier has increased since September 2021, when China (the world’s largest producer and exporter) imposed significant restrictions on its phosphate fertilizer exports, to last at least until the end of June 2022, if not longer.
As a result of all of the above factors, global phosphate prices are considered stable in the short-term.
February continued the trend from January as potash interest from buyers remained fairly low on the demand side, typical of the lull between winter fill purchases and spring applications.
What caught the attention of many was the development of European sanctions against Belarus, which began in early February with BPC being cut off from its main port in Klaipeda, Lithuania, effectively stopping all products from the country en route to the rest of the world.
It was initially thought that Belarusian potash might find its way through Ukrainian or Russian ports, but those ideas were quickly thwarted by escalating sanctions against Belarus and Russia’s military actions in Ukraine.
Prices for NOLA vessels have been reduced to a range of $648-$655/t FOB from January prices of $660-$670/t. Interest in potash got off to a slow start in 2022 and continued to fall in the US through early March, rallying alongside other fertilizers on the back of the above developments.
Offers at the river terminals lagged the adjustments at NOLA and mid-February prices were between $690-710/t FOB or $5-10 lower than in January. Demand in the US interior was lackluster during the month as buyers currently saw no buying pressure, although traders anticipate product will soon start moving through supply chains, with spring planting expected in the coming weeks .
Global supply deals in China and India were also finalized in February, paving the way for contract supplies at a time of great market uncertainty. Russia and Belarus account for nearly 40% of global production, and the threat of a railroad workers’ strike in Canada has only fueled the fire.
In the short term, potash prices are viewed as firm.
Editor’s Note: This information is courtesy of Fertecon, Agribusiness Intelligence, IHS Markit.
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