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Updated to Q1 2015
Despite starting off with a positive outlook for the year, the US urea market has been under pressure this quarter as slow demand, which is the result of wet, cold weather keeping farmers out of the fields, has resulted in limited activity and caused pricing levels to erode as supplies remain abundant.
Overall market sentiment has been mixed as there has been some thought developing that the decreases expected in crop production this year, namely corn plantings, could reduce the usage of nitrogen fertilizers like urea.
Given the lack of large-scale demand, as normally would be present before the start of the spring plantings season, prices have retreated globally but are being especially noticed in US barge pricing.
As the quarter came to a close. some activity was increasing as buyers are being forced to conclude deals in time to meet the crop needs quickly forthcoming. The upside to their delayed buying is that the nutrient has scaled downward over the last part of the quarter and that depending on location there is still enough time to get it properly positioned.
There has been increased speculation that more purchasing needs to be concluded to cover the first half of the season’s demand. There has also been talk that some growers might switch to other nutrients, like urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) but at this time it has not been seen. This could develop as the plantings go forward if not been enough volumes have been put into place.
Updated to Q3 2017
China continued to stay away from the export market as domestic demand in the country remained firm. Netbacks from domestic urea sales in China were also higher than they were internationally. Indonesian and Malaysian production was limited due to maintenance. A quick succession of Indian import tenders helped to suck up any additional supply in Iran and the Arab Gulf.
Indian import demand during the quarter was healthy due to ample rain and a slight decline in domestic production. India was able to procure only limited quantities under each tender given the tight market. It also had to pay a significant mark-up. Southeast Asian consumers in Thailand, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam only started to accept higher prices towards the end of the quarter. Healthy domestic demand in China has been a surprise, with buyers coming to the market earlier than expected to stock up in the off season.
Updated to Q1 2015
Domestic urea prices were stable-to-softer in early January. Persistently weak demand triggered slight price falls in some regions. As agricultural distributors remained on the sidelines, urea products were mostly sold to industrial buyers or delivered to the ports for exporting. Export prices for prilled urea edged downwards because of bearish demand in the international market. Export prices for granules were relatively firm on the back of US demand and limited supply in Egypt. The prices were stable-to-higher at the end of January, on the back of the imminent increase in China’s railway freight rates and the purchase tender from India’s MMTC. MMTC closed its urea purchase tender on 27 January, with the lowest offer at $297.1/tonne CFR.
Domestic urea prices were largely stable in early February. The coming increases in railway freight exerted little impact on the domestic market. MMTC’s tender gave some support to domestic prices. Agricultural distributors were still reluctant to build up their stocks. Traders mostly adopted a wait-and-see attitude, despite their overall low inventories. Downstream producers were also suspending their buying in the run-up to the Chinese Lunar New Year, from 18 to 24 February. Urea prices in the domestic market increased slightly after the holiday, along with rising temperatures. Price rises in Shandong and other regions, together with strong agricultural demand and tight supply in some areas, explained why most producers kept their EXW prices firm.
Domestic urea prices fell significantly in March, with the largest decline seen in Shandong, largely because of bearish agricultural demand in the province, local industrial end-users’ persistently thin buying interest and lower purchasing prices. A temporary price rally might emerge in some regional markets after spring buying comes into full swing. Market players are mostly awaiting the new purchase tenders from India and Pakistan.
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