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Updated to Q2 2018
South Korea and Japan were already virtually dry of spot availability for sulphuric acid following production problems throughout 2017, which saw tight supply lag into 2018, prior to the permanent closure of Vednata's Tuticorin smelter. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPC) issued a Government Order on 28 May to permanently close and seal the copper smelter, which produced around 1.2m tonnes/year of sulphuric acid and was the regions largest. Two Lions is the only major producer to have significant spot volumes, and sold out quickly in the wake of the closure.
The initial turnaround at Tuticorin, which began at end-March and was indefinitely extended in early-April had already seen India exhaust domestic volumes. The permanent closure saw buyers scramble for volumes that led to significant price rises across southeast Asia. India CFR prices rose by 29% at the low end of the range between 23 May and 6 June on the back of the closure, while prices in other areas of southeast Asia rose by 17% in the same period. Export prices from South Korea and Japan, meanwhile, rose by 50-100% in a single week between 30 May and 6 June, showing the impact of the closure on the region as a whole.
European supply remained limited, with smelter output in 2018 understood to be below 2017 levels. Europe continues to operate predominantly on a contractual basis, and most producers in Europe were sold out throughout the quarter. The impact from the closure of the Tuticorin copper smelter in India was felt as far away as Europe. Demand in the wake of the forced permanent shutdown coupled with strong demand from OCP in Morocco and high consumption from South America in the early part of the quarter, served to keep spot availability from Europe virtually dry.
Demand from OCP remained strong throughout the quarter, with the tight supply of sulphur forcing a reliance on sulphuric acid, despite the attractive economics of sulphur-burning during Q2. The closure of Tuticorin and resultant tightness in Asia led to a flurry of enquiries in Europe as buyers were forced to look further afield to replace lost volumes. Nevertheless, with Europe spot availability negligible during Q2, this rise in bids did not result in any corresponding offers.
US sulphuric acid supply was very tight during the second quarter as Chemtrade continues to adapt to its single-furnace operation and multiple turnarounds, planned and unplanned, were undergone. Production was low enough that a major consumer imported the first spot cargo seen in some time. Some sulphuric acid burners were heard to have trouble obtaining supply of sulphur feedstock, leading to lower run rates and thus lower production.
US sulphuric acid demand strengthened during the second quarter as Unity Envirotech’s Henry, Illinois ammonium sulphate plant ramped up and began consuming significant quantities of acid. Mosaic imported 10,000 tonnes of spot acid during the quarter, pushing prices to multi-year highs in the midst of global tightness. This and a small handful of other spot cargoes were the first US international demand seen in some time.
Updated to Q4 2017
Workers at Enami’s Piapote copper smelter began industrial action on 13 December. Workers at Southern Copper’s Toquepala, Cuajone, and Ilo smelters in Peru are understood to still be striking. Teck’s Quebrada Blanca copper mine in northern Chile saw industrial action from the Union of Workers of Quebrada Blanca on 13 December, which is one of three unions at the site. Quebrada Blanco’s supergene deposit has been exhausted and production was already at reduced rates as a result, with production at the mine not expected to continue beyond mid-2019 dependent on copper prices and cost reduction efforts.
High copper prices throughout 2017 have led to Chilean mines running as hard as they can. Copper prices have increased by more than 50% in the past 12 months. Strike action in the final month of 2017 led to renewed demand from Chile.
Updated to Q1 2017
The global sulphuric acid market was flat to firm in the first quarter of 2017, with maintenance and consistent demand balancing factors.
In Europe, Moroccan acid buyer OCP helped balance the market, taking well over 100,000 tonnes/month in the opening months of the year. While European volumes were prominent, tonnes were also pulled from India and Canada.
In Asia, Indian contract negotiations took place during the quarter, with nearly all settled, and negative netbacks seen in all supply regions. However, spot prices were firming by the end of the quarter, with prices edging back into positive FOB values.
The US market was balanced to tight owing to a series of scheduled maintenance works in Canada.
The World Sulphuric Acid Weekly new look report contains 16 benchmark sulphuric acid price assessments and covers international trade across Europe, Asia and the US.
Included in the report are shipping fixtures and smelter outages, along with coverage of upstream sulphur and downstream fertilizers and chemicals. Coverage and attention is also paid to the base metals market and price developments for copper, zinc and nickel. Sulphuric acid import and export statistics are also published.
The report tackles all events likely to impact the global sulphuric acid market, including price developments, trade flows, as well as supply and demand balances.
The information in the report is gathered by talking to suppliers, traders and consumers from around the world, in addition to our own industry experts covering markets related to sulphuric acid.
All these developments are thoroughly analyzed on a weekly basis. The report is beneficial to our customers because it is the most comprehensive analysis of this crucial market.
ICIS collects pricing data on a wide range of chemical, energy and fertilizer products, including Sulphuric acid. 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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