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Updated to Q2 2018
Sulphur supply tightened globally during the second quarter due to a combination of factors including a lack of volumes through the Black Sea and production problems in the Grossenkneten gasfield. Coupled with a sweeter crude mix at the start of the quarter, and technical limitations that prevented a switch to more sour crude once crude values rebounded, sulphur availability was further reduced, particularly out of the Middle East - Asia's major supplier. Although Black Sea volumes and the Grossenkneten gasfield predominantly affected Europe, this still led to a stronger pull from other regions, intensifying global shortages.
Demand in China and India remained weak throughout the second quarter, and this limited expected price rises from limited availability. The lull at the start of the quarter was due to the traditional low season for fertilizer demand as well as the Lunar New Year. Nevertheless, consumption failed to re-materialize at the start of the downstream India phosphates season - China's major end-use market - amid high stock levels, falling domestic China prices, and buyers seeking to hold off purchases as long as possible while prices continued to drop.
Europe sulphur supply tightened throughout the second quarter. Gazprom has been selling limited volumes on tender basis through Ust Luga because the lack of available barges due to grain shipments has meant that it has not been possible to ship from the Black Sea during the second quarter. Coupled with this, problems at the Grossenkneten gas fields are understood to have disrupted production at two major European sulphur producers. European supply is already tight because of a sweeter crude mix through the first half of 2018. In the Mediterranean, tightness was exacerbated by production problems at the Taranto refinery, limiting locally available volumes and forcing an increased reliance on imports.
Global shortages of sulphuric acid throughout the second quarter saw global spot prices increase to attractive levels for encouraging sulphur burning. Nevertheless, Europe supply shortages have prevented this from happening. Coupled with this, demand from the Mediterranean for imports increased during the quarter because local refinery problems saw an increased reliance on imports. Similarly, problems at Grossenkneten, saw an increase in demand from non-affected sellers as buyers in Germany sought to replace lost volumes.
Updated to Q4 2017
Middle East supply was tight through much of the fourth quarter amid low operating rates and strong offtake from China until late November. The downstream MWSPC DAP expansion has limited the availability of sulphur from Saudi Arabia. The long delayed Kashagan project in Kazakhstan has not begun exporting sulphur. The first batch of export crude oil from the Kashagan Oil Field took place in October 2016, and the site had been expected to be regularly exporting sulphur by the end of 2017, but it is yet to export a single tonne. Kashagan is understood to be blocking sulphur, with Integer forecasting that exports will ramp up during 2018 before adding 1m tonnes/year of sulphur exports to the market once it reaches full capacity in 2019.
China, the Middle East's major trading partner, saw high consumption throughout the second half of 2017, but particularly from October to late November, which caused prices to jump significantly. From 5 October to 16 November, China sulphur import prices rose by 55-56%. The strong demand was partially linked to downstream players moving some 2018 production forward to avoid a new environmental tax, which comes into effect on 1 January, and in part due to restocking ahead of the Lunar New Year. Demand fell back once lead times meant that purchases would not arrive in time for these two purposes.
ICIS provides pricing information, news and analysis for all major petrochemical and chemical markets, including Sulphur.
We offer unbiased and independent price reporting, with our price assessments being widely quoted as benchmarks in contracts.
Our information is collected from market participants by our global network of reporters, delivering unrivalled coverage of established and emerging markets, including China and Asia.
ICIS price assessments are based on information gathered from a wide cross section of the market, comprising consumers, producers, traders and distributors. Confirmed deals, verified by both buyer and seller, provide the foundation of our price assessments, giving you a robust reference for your negotiations.
ICIS collects pricing data on a wide range of chemical, energy and fertilizer products, including Sulphur. Our extensive experience in price reporting means we can offer you access to historical data dating back more than 20 years for certain commodities.
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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.