Potash prices eased further, missing out on a revival seen
in markets for other nutrients, as North American producers ramped up output,
offsetting rapid growth in exports and domestic orders.
Potash prices, as measured on the Vancouver export market,
wallowed last month at about $300 a tonne, the lowest since six years, and down
from some $400 a tonne before the break-up in July of the Belarusian Potash
Company, which controlled more than 40% of world trade.
The decline reflected a rise in North American inventories for
fifth successive month, to 3.16m tonnes, up 100,000 tonnes from December, and
well above the five-year average level.
Although demand for North American supplies rose
substantially last month, output rose even faster, by 44% last month, to 1.62m
tonnes, according to the data, released by Canadian potash giant PotashCorp.
The continued decline in potash prices contrasts with a
continued revival in values of phosphate, which in its benchmark diammonium
phosphate (DAP) form has returned above $400 a tonne in Tampa, on an fob basis.
Urea prices also extended their rebound, to about $350 a tonne
in Yuzhnyy, Ukraine from levels below $300 a tonne six months ago, in a decline
fuelled by record Chinese exports.
The revival in urea prices follows capacity cuts in China
and Ukraine, with Norwegian giant Yara International warning of potential closures
too, but also the start of China's period of higher export duties.
China operates higher export duties from November-to-December
and January-to-June periods.
The current duty is 15% plus 40 yuan ($6.60) per tonne, although
this amounts to far less prohibitive rates than previous seasons.
According to research group Integer, "if China's urea fob is
$350-450 a tonne in peak seasons, China's new export tax will be only $50-66 a tonne,
sharply down from a prohibitive $150-200 a tonne in 2013".
Potash price outlook
However, many observers remain more cautious over prospects
for potash prices, following the market downturn prompted by the break-up in
July of the Belarusian Potash Company cartel which controlled more than 40% of
US-based Mosaic last week said that potash prices "seem to
have found a bottom", adding that "the stage is
set for improving prices later this year".
Rival Intrepid Potash said that "market
indicators", including prices rises pushed through for Brazil, and contracts
agreed by Chinese importers, "have presented a more positive near-term outlook.
But the group added that it was "cautious
with its view on pricing given some of the structural pressures in the potash
Production outpaces demand
The PotashCorp data showed exports
by North American producers rising by 22% year on year in January, to 803,000 tonnes.
Sales within the region soared 76%
year on year to 833,000 tonnes.
However, with production rising by
44%, this demand was insufficient to prevent the rise in inventories.