The ICIS weekly Urea reports are covered in China, Europe and the US as well as globally in The Market report. For China, there is an extensive coverage of export, ex-works and ex-warehouse prices, and the Europe report concentrates on spot prilled and granular grades in Yuzhny, Baltic, Middle East and northwest Europe, while the US has spot quotes for the US Gulf and Arab Gulf. All these prices assessments are supported by an independent market commentary that includes details of production news, exports, regional updates, demand and supply and any other key influencing factors. This reliable market intelligence can help you to make informed commercial choices.
Updated to Q2 2019
Chinese supply increased towards the end of the quarter as the domestic season winded down. Operating rates in China remained around 65% but there were more export cargoes available, with fewer needed domestically. Indian supply has also increased, with the new 1.3m tonne/year Chambal plant operating at full rates. SOCAR’s 660,000 tonne/year plant in Azerbaijan also started exporting towards the end of the quarter. Malaysian and Indonesian supply also remained uninterrupted.
India continues to remain the main import hub for the region, having purchased over 1m tonnes of urea via two tenders in April and May. Pakistan also bought 100,000 tonnes of granular urea as questions arose about domestic availability, while Sri Lanka also stepped in. Australian demand came as a surprise, with farmers starting applications early because of good rains. Thailand continued to buy major volume on a contract basis while other southeast Asian demand was sporadic.
There was no shortage of urea supply during Q2 despite tonnes moving from major exporter Egypt to India. Egypt started its annual turnaround season in June.
Demand was reasonable but legislation pertaining to nitrogen content in water for Germany, in particular, meant that demand eased with calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) the preferred nutrient. In contrast, the mild and dry winter meant that the window for application was wider than in 2018. Unlike northwest Europe, where demand slowed, buying interest in parts of the Mediterranean persisted through May and June.
In the US, urea supply decreased during the quarter because of the transportation obstacles faced by the New Orleans barge market, with high water levels impeding transit. Additionally with terminals heavily utilised to make up the shortfall of river volumes, the inland outlets saw volumes steadily decrease over the period even with the delays in plantings and reduced acreage in some regions.
In the US, demand was rather lower during the quarter. There was an overall drop in buying. Crop applications were pressured to be completed in typical fashion as the spring season saw increased weather complications, due mainly to heavy rains and flooded acreage. This caused significant delays during the prime season for fertilizer applications.
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Nitrogen (N) fertilizers are produced chemically using natural gas and hydrogen that is contained in the air. Ammonia is produced by mixing nitrogen and hydrogen gases in the presence of heat, pressure and a catalyst compound.
Urea is the most widely-produced and commonly-traded nitrogen fertilizer. Production amounts to more than 140m. tonnes a year, of which about 30m.
Urea occurs as white hygroscopic crystals, which are either odourless or have a slight smell of ammonia. Urea is not considered to be harmful at normal temperature, but the dust may irritate the skin, eyes and nose.
The major outlet for urea, accounting for nearly 90% of total consumption, is as a fertilizer. Urea is also used in the manufacture of urea-formaldehyde resins, the synthesis of melamine, in adhesives and paints, and for laminates, moulding compounds, impregnating paper and textiles.
Urea is widely traded on international fertilizer markets. There are two main hubs in urea trade – the Black Sea and Arab Gulf. These flows are said to determine the global urea prices.
Urea production involves a two step process where the ammonia and carbon dioxide react to form ammonium carbamate which is then dehydrated to urea. In the process, ammonia and carbon dioxide are fed to the synthesis reactor which operates around 180-210oC and 150 bar pressure.
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