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Updated to Q2 2018
Although freight rates have eased slightly in the second quarter, from highs of more than $58/tonne in the first quarter, supply remains tight in Southeast Asia. Throughout the quarter, a series of tenders issued by importers in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia - among other nations - kept business brisk, and led producers to maintain a steady supply of vessels. Supply tightness was still an issue, but was less so than earlier in the year.
Q2 MOP demand in Asia could best be defined as a “peak and trough” balancing act. Some nations like Indonesia were hotbeds of buying activity one week, then practically silent the next as plantations, importers, and distributors bickered for fresh delivery slots. Towards the end of Q2, the market slowed as buyers - cautious and reserved - elected not to purchase fresh MOP cargoes until either China or India settled a long-term import contract price.
Spring/summer applications helped keep second quarter muriate of potash (MOP) supply steady in Europe, without a notable spike in enquiries. However, tightness started to set in towards the end of the quarter - notably as demand for downstream sulphate of potash (SOP) production picked up in southern Europe - outstripping producers’ ability to meet demand. Producers also earmarked a large portion of their fresh volumes for export to Asia and Latin America, where bullish offers were grudgingly accepted by MOP-strapped buyers.
Q2 MOP demand was stronger than Q1 demand, thanks primarily to a late spring, which compressed buying activity into a relatively short period of time. After an initial burst of enquiries, the remainder of the second quarter was steady from a demand standpoint. However, towards the end of the quarter, increased enquiries from downstream SOP producers in southern Europe led to a further tightening of supply.
During the quarter, US supply levels of potash were rather consistent as the period of seasonal crop consumption kept barge and rail deliveries in constant movement. Outside of a small union strike by a major railroad carrier and some foul weather hindrances, domestic volumes followed in typical fashion. Key to the market was that barge availability was steady during the peak months, and although a tad lighter than initially expected, the amount of imports helped keep inventory balanced.
Demand was traditionally strong during the quarter, especially given the delayed weather start faced within the key crop regions. US farmers also took advantage of the more favourable price ratio of potash to cover crop needs. Yet as the quarter progressed and activity began to wind down in the fields, overall demand followed suit with most buying having evaporated by period’s end. The next uptick was not anticipated until refills begin later this summer.
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