Uncertainty remains watchword for global sulphuric acid market

Author: Andy Hemphill

2020/09/11

LONDON (ICIS)--Pricing in the global sulphuric acid market is mixed as the fourth quarter beckons and players prepare for Q4 and 2021 contract talks.

In Europe, early signs point to a potential rollover in Q4 - although a gradual strengthening in downstream demand may support an increase should producers remain bullish in their outlook.

In France, acid supplies in the south are tight - possibly as a key French producer has cleared an oversupply first sighted in late May.

In neighbouring Germany, early talks for 2021 full-year contracts have started. Early indications point to a €1-2/tonne decrease on 2020 levels, after a weaker trading environment and lower offers seen throughout this year.

Further afield, in India, demand has slowed after a very busy Q3 for buyers.

Considerable tonnage has been booked for multiple players, including Coromandel (CIL), IFFCO, and Fertilizers and Chemicals Travancore (FACT).

FACT still has some capacity, however, after issuing late on Thursday a purchase tender for 11,000 tonnes of sulphuric acid, closing on 16 September.

The tender requires delivery 30 October to 3 November at Cochin.

IFFCO is also believed to be considering additional tonnage.

South of the equator, in major acid consuming nation Chile, annual sulphuric acid supply contract talks have started amid a considerable rebound in copper pricing.

Trading on the London Metals Exchange hit a 2020 high this week, reaching $6,790/tonne. Last time pricing was this strong was in June 2018.

Traders speculate the higher pricing for the base metal - which hit a low in March and April this year - may spur increased production at the tail-end of the year, and subsequently higher sulphuric acid demand for Q4.

That said, views on Chilean acid pricing are rather mixed.

Market talk of imported spot acid purchasing activity in the $40s/tonne to $55/tonne CFR (cost & freight) Mejillones range is unconfirmed - as is talk of additional demand.

Acid supply length in the domestic Chilean market seen earlier in 2020 has been reduced by a lengthy smelter shutdown at Codelco’s vast Chuquicamata mine - which is now back online, albeit not at full capacity, it is understood - while some other copper players have suffered periodic maintenance issues.

Added to this were additional logistical problems caused by stringent anti-coronavirus measures, which also helped reduce the Chilean domestic acid oversupply.

Additional price direction may also emerge from Argentina after fertilizer major Bunge closed a purchase tender for 18,000 tonnes of sulphuric acid for arrival in early December.

A price range of $55-58/tonne CFR Argentina was heard, but is as yet unconfirmed.

Bunge has not confirmed the tender.

Finally, in Mexico, regular consumer Innophos rounded out the week with an 11th-hour purchase tender for 18,000 tonnes of sulphuric acid, closing on 11 September.

Delivery is for early November.

Innophos has not confirmed the above.