The global sulphur markets are covered weekly by ICIS in The Market. The Market gives you the global view on the fertilizer market, and is tailored for the international fertilizers business. The commentary includes supply and demand trends, production news, shipping enquiries, fertilizer prices and price drivers and fluctuations.
Commodities covered in The Market include:
Updated to Q3 2020
Chinese port stocks climbed to over 3m tonnes during Q3, significantly higher than the typical 1m-1.5m tonnes in previous years. Spot availability from the Middle East was constant.
Chinese import activity picked up in September, amid improved sentiment. The downstream phosphates sector was firm throughout the quarter, which boosted sentiment for feedstock sulphur in China and India.
Liquid sulphur supply remained tight in Q3 amid reduced output from refineries due to the impact of the coronavirus. Factors such as a move to sweeter crude and plant turnarounds also impacted supply.
Demand was stable following Q3 contract settlements in July. Lacklustre demand from the downstream capro sector failed to support the sulphur market.
In the US, sulphur markets in the Gulf were put on pause toward the end of August, as a significant number of refineries idled operations ahead of Hurricane Laura. Logistics disruption was widely expected, including rail embargoes and truck availability. Production remained at low levels that begun in Q2, when output fell to nine-year lows
Demand for US sulphur remained strong during the quarter, with at least one major fertilizer producer upping its intake of sulphur domestically. A tight sulphuric acid market contributed to continued strong sulphur demand as well, as burners tried to run at high rates. Low production did not allow for high export levels out of the US Gulf.
Updated to Q4 2020
Supply is expected to remain constant in Asia, as there are no known plans for output cuts in the region.
Demand in Asia will be highly influenced by India’s appetite for DAP fertilizers. The $64/tonne increase in phosphoric acid settlements means it is cheaper for India to import DAP rather than produce it domestically. Thus, market players expect that this increase will lead to more DAP imports in Q4. This will mean more demand for sulphur from China.
Refinery output levels are expected to increase if fuel demand picks up. However, a second wave of coronavirus lockdowns could hit output.
Demand will be dependent on sulphuric acid and capro market conditions. The impact of the coronavirus on downstream demand will be a deciding factor.
Supply is expected to remain depleted as refiners will likely keep running at low rates amid the pandemic, and as hurricane season continues. Continuing sulphuric acid shortages will add to a strain on sulphur supply as well. Little to no exports are expected from the US Gulf in Q4. In Canada, inventories will likely not be long during Q4, with some suppliers expecting purchases to be on a need-to basis until November.
There could be demand for North American sulphur from Brazil during Q4. Record-high Chinese inventories have so far not slowed demand for Canadian tonnes this year and there is no indication this will change during Q4.
We offer the following global phosphates analysis and news coverage to keep you informed of factors and developments affecting prices in the Sulphur marketplace.
Breaking news of latest developments affecting the markets.
Insight and analysis of factors driving prices.
ICIS price assessments are based on information gathered from a wide cross-section of the market, comprising consumers, producers, traders and distributors from more than 250 reporters world-wide. Confirmed deals, verified by both buyer and seller, provide the foundation of our price assessments.
Our in-depth market knowledge drives our specialist focus, as we recognise the importance of individual market dynamics and not a one-size-fits-all approach.
Over 25 years of reporting on key chemicals markets, including Sulphur, has brought global recognition of our methodology as being unbiased, authoritative and rigorous in preserving our editorial integrity. Our global network of reporters in Houston, London, Singapore, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Mumbai, Perth and Moscow ensures unrivalled coverage of established and emerging markets.
Sulphur (S) is an important element in nature. As a constituent of proteins, has a similar nutrient value to nitrogen (N) and is essential to the life of plants, with its lack causing similar effects to the lack of nitrogen.
Sulphur is used in fertilizers, normally in the form of ammonium sulphate, where there is a deficiency of sulphur in the soil.
Sulphur is also used to make sulphuric acid from sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is used to make dyes and as a bleaching agent.
Sulphur has a pale yellow appearance and has a slight odour of rotten egg. It is insoluble in water, but soluble in carbon disulphide.
It is found in meteorites, volcanoes, hot springs, and as galena, gypsum, Epsom salts and barite. It is also a minor constituent of fats, body fluids and skeletal minerals.
There are two key sources of processing sulphur. The first is the Frasch process, where sulphur is extracted from underground without mining it.
In the Frasch process, underground deposits of sulphur are forced to the surface using superheated water and steam (to melt the sulphur) and compressed air. This gives molten sulphur, which is allowed to cool in large basins. Purity can reach 99.5%. The process is energy intense.
Another source of sulphur is as a by-product of processing crude oil and natural gas, which contain hydrogen sulphide. It is produced in crush lump, flake and prilled form.
Key industrial uses of sulphur includes production of black gunpowder, asphalt, vulcanisation of natural rubber, as a fungicide and as a fumigant, use in the bleaching of dried fruits and for paper products.
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