Overview

The global sulphur market has gone through fundamental changes in buying patterns, trade routes and pricing over the past few years. Fixed price contracts and formula-based indexation have become the dominant ways in which supplies are bought and sold around the world, which makes accurate price assessments and detailed analysis key to any sulphur market participants.

The global sulphuric acid industry has seen structural change in recent years and new capacities will continue to challenge the balance in the years to come. While demand will be driven by fertilizers — predominantly the increased production of phosphate and ammonium sulphates — the market will continue to be exposed to short-term supply shocks, especially from the metals sector.

Rising demand for battery materials such as nickel and cobalt (due to growing electric vehicle production) will in turn bolster demand for sulphur and sulphuric acid, increase competition for supply and impact pricing.

Our extensive market coverage includes formed sulphur (both granular and prilled), crushed lump sulphur, molten/liquid sulphur and sulphuric acid. Argus has decades of experience covering these markets, and incorporate our multi-commodity market expertise in key areas including phosphates and metals to provide the full market narrative.

Argus support market participants with:

  • Price assessments (daily and weekly for sulphur, weekly for sulphuric acid), proprietary data and market commentary assessments
  • Short and medium to long-term forecasting, modelling and analysis of sulphur and sulphuric acid prices, supply, demand, trade and projects
  • Bespoke consulting project support

Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news

Browse the latest market moving news on the global sulphur and sulphuric acid industry.

Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news
25/03/24

Fertilizer affordability weakens in 1Q24 on higher N, P

Fertilizer affordability weakens in 1Q24 on higher N, P

London, 25 March (Argus) — Global fertilizer product affordability trended lower through most of the first quarter of 2024, as crop prices slid on higher expected global supplies, while nitrogen and phosphate fertilizers remained at high levels before coming under pressure in the second half of March. The decline in nutrient affordability this quarter comes at a time when farmers start preparing for the spring fertilizer application season in the northern hemisphere. The Argus fertilizer affordability index ⁠— a global assessment calculated using the ratio between the fertilizer and crop price index ⁠— fell to the lowest quarterly average since the fourth quarter of 2022. Nutrient affordability weakened by 10 percentage points since the start of the year, to 1.03 points in March from 1.13 points in January. An affordability index above 1 indicates that fertilizers are more affordable compared with the base year, which was set in 2004, while below 1 indicates lower nutrient affordability. High urea, phosphate prices weigh on affordability The fertilizer index ⁠— which includes international prices for urea, DAP and potash adjusted by global usage ⁠— has reached the highest quarter average since 1Q23, owing to high urea and phosphate prices. Urea prices surged through the second half of January, following a bearish end to 2023, initially spurred by short-covering and fresh demand from European markets in the wake of an Indian purchase tender. Levels out of Egypt jumped by around $70/t through the month to over $400/t fob for European markets. Prices remained firm through the first half of February, supported by strong demand from Australia and Thailand, as importers warily eyed rising prices. The supply-demand balance east of Suez was also tightened by plant closures in Iran and Malaysia, as well as restrictions on Indonesian shipments prior to the elections on 14 February. But a return of urea supply east of Suez, a slowdown in buying and weaker gas prices pressured urea levels through the second half of February and into March across most markets, apart from the US, resulting in prices to weaken on the month. For phosphates, DAP/MAP prices remained high on tight supply through the first quarter, while China refrained from exporting product. Also strong demand in Australia and the US diverted cargoes away from other markets. Limited MAP supply and emerging demand encouraged suppliers to raise their offers in March in the west. Meanwhile, in the east, the imminent reopening of China is adding to expected supply, and has turned DAP markets bearish. Traders have started to short Chinese DAP with India's RCF awarding its latest buy tender at $575/t cfr — $20/t lower than the last reported cfr sale into India. But for now, prices remain far above the breakeven price of around $509/t cfr, given the reduced Indian DAP subsidy of 21,676 rupees/t for the April-September kharif season. Crop prices under pressure High fertilizer prices so far in the quarter coincided with a decline in grain prices for wheat, corn and soybeans owing to expectations of higher global supplies in the coming season. This has led to the crop price index — the key element of the affordability index — falling to its lowest point since the fourth quarter of 2020. Global wheat output is forecast to reach 799mn t in the 2024-25 season (July-June), according to the International Grains Council (IGC), up by 10mn t from the IGC's 2023-24 projection, but consumption is expected to be flat on the previous season. Global corn production is also expected to rise in 2024-25, up by 6mn t on the year to 1.233bn t in 2024-25. And global corn consumption is forecast to increase, up by 18mn t to 1.23bn t in 2024-25. Carryover corn stocks for major exporters are set to increase by 7mn t on the year to 78mn t, according to the IGC. As for soybeans, the IGC forecasts global production to rise by 23mn t to 413mn t in 2024-25 because of larger acreages and improved yields. Global consumption is projected to rise by 21mn t on the year to 404mn t, according to the IGC. The council also expects higher carryover stocks at 75mn t in 2024-25, up by 9mn t on the year. By Lili Minton, Harry Minihan and Tom Hampson Global Fertilizer Affordability Index (points) Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news

US amsul stripping margins rebound in March


22/03/24
Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news
22/03/24

US amsul stripping margins rebound in March

Houston, 22 March (Argus) — The stripping margin for US ammonium sulfate production in March reached the widest spread since June on higher selling prices and steady variable costs. The stripping margin — the selling price minus variable costs — for March rose to $246/metric tonne (t), a roughly $47/t or 23pc increase from February and a 38pc surge from March last year. Amsul production issues at AdvanSix and BASF tightened the market, which lifted prices as buyers looked elsewhere for supply. Nutrien also had some production issues at its Redwater facility and was limiting supply to some customers, market participants said. The company did not immediately respond to request for a comment. Resulting tightness in the market has been exacerbated by the spring season arriving early, causing buyers to enter ahead of normal before sulfur production ramps back up after spring refinery turnarounds. The supply squeeze was clearest at New Orleans, where an amsul barge traded on 18 March at $385/st fob for March delivery. Prices were assessed between $325-335/st fob for week ending 14 March. Prices rose to $370-385/st fob for week ending 21 March, and market participants expected prices would reach $400/st fob in the upcoming weeks. The total variable cost for amsul was flat for the month compared to February at $132.50/st. But variable cost in March 2023 was at $185/st, about 28pc higher than currently. The March 2023 stripping margin was also $7/st more than the total variable cost. Declines of 25pc and 47pc in the cost of feedstocks ammonia and sulfur year over year, respectively, caused the shift in stripping margins. The ammonia Tampa contract rolled over from February at $445/t cfr on higher demand. A series of plant disruptions in the US have tightened supply in the Corn Belt. Global ammonia is balanced but may soften as US domestic demand declines. The Tampa sulfur contract settled $12/long ton (lt) higher for the second quarter at $81/lt on 18 March, up from $69/lt in February. Prices could fall toward the end of the second quarter as sulfur output rebounds following refinery turnarounds. By Meghan Yoyotte Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news

March sulphur port stocks breach 3mn t in China


22/03/24
Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news
22/03/24

March sulphur port stocks breach 3mn t in China

London, 22 March (Argus) — Sulphur port stocks in China climbed to 3.01mn t on 12 March following the lunar new year holiday. This is expected to moderate import buying in the short term. Sulphur port stocks in China climbed to 3.01mn t last week, a level last breached in August 2020, when a peak of 3.1mn t was recorded on 20 August. This gives consumers some flexibility on moderating import buying and replenishing plant stocks from port stockpiles. In 2020 the peak inventory build-up was followed by a rapid drawdown of stocks, as traders holding stock at river port warehouses released tonnes to the market, and consumers along the Yangtzhe river were able to secure supply in domestic currency from stocks in favour of booking cfr-based full shipments in the import market. By 23 December inventories had fallen to a more moderate 2.3mn t. This week port stocks did begin to drop slightly, as tonnes have begun again to be barged down the river from port to consumer plants and import vessel arrivals have been moderated by subdued import buying. On Monday 18 March inventory levels slipped to 2.88mn t, down from 2.94mn t on Friday. Stocks dropped further on Thursday to 2.86mn t. This is still a high level, but the holiday season logistics stoppage that meant product stayed at ports rather than moved to consumers, coupled with reduced import buying limiting new arrivals have led to the drawdown of stocks this week. Port inventory rose again to 2.93mn t on Friday 22 March following the latest vessel arrival and discharge at Dafeng port. Stocks are now expected to slowly reduce over the coming weeks, as post-holiday logistics again allow for product to move from port to plants, import buying has been moderate and fertilizer producers are likely to need raw material for targeting the export market for DAP and MAP. March-loading Middle East sulphur has been mainly sold to Indonesia in favour of the Chinese market, leading to a lower number of import vessels expected to arrive during April at Chinese ports. Domestic prices have been lifting as the fertilizer export season is expected to support consumption and traders holding port inventory have been reluctant to release product to consumers at below cost levels. As a result of the lift to prices, this week trading became more active in the local market on small parcels. By Maria Mosquera Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news

Sulphur shortage, outages underpin EU sulacid market


13/03/24
Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news
13/03/24

Sulphur shortage, outages underpin EU sulacid market

London, 13 March (Argus) — The European sulphuric acid market is currently facing a pickup in demand from sulphur burners, owing to a shortage of molten sulphur on the continent, tilting the market dynamics from oversupply to a more balanced market. Upcoming maintenances at key smelters will also help balance a readily available domestic market. These factors come at a key time when contract negotiations for European sulphuric acid are set to start in the second half of March. Sulphur shortage The acid market is facing an increase in domestic spot demand as a shortage in molten sulphur in Europe is affecting sulphur-burner operations, which represent about 43pc of total capacity in northwest Europe. Some sulphur burners have struggled to secure all its sulphur requirement this quarter and have had to operate at reduced capacity, which in turn has resulted in an increase in demand for sulphuric acid for those consumers that can switch between smelter and sulphur-burnt acid. The molten sulphur shortage is owing mainly to production being constrained by refinery maintenance outages, sweeter crude feedstocks and a shortfall of sour feedstocks as a result of Red Sea delays and the Russian crude import ban. These challenges are likely to persist into the next few months unless there are some fundamental changes in the market that can alleviate the shortage. The changes in market dynamics come at a time when players will start to discuss the next quarterly contract for sulphur-burnt and smelter-based acid later this month. The quarterly sulphur-burnt acid contract settled at €128-180/t cfr for the first quarter, a €5/t decline on the previous quarter. Meanwhile, the smelter-based acid contract settled at €96-110/t cfr for the first quarter, a €10-15/t decrease on the previous quarter. Smelter outages Spot availability from smelter-based producers will be tighter in the second quarter as heavy maintenance is planned at key smelters in Europe. Aurubis' Hamburg smelter will start a 60-day-long maintenance in May, expecting to remove about 200,000t of acid as a result of the outage. Spring maintenance at some of Boliden's plants is also expected to tighten some spot availability from northwest Europe in the second quarter. This is in addition to the temporary supply loss of Nyrstar's Budel smelter as the plant remains under care and maintenance. Budel, with a nameplate capacity of 324,000 t/yr of sulphuric acid, has been off line since mid-January owing to high energy costs and deteriorating market conditions. By Lili Minton Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news

Indonesia’s Lygend seeks March-April sulphuric acid


19/02/24
Latest sulphur and sulphuric acid news
19/02/24

Indonesia’s Lygend seeks March-April sulphuric acid

Singapore, 19 February (Argus) — Indonesian battery metals producer Halmahera Persada Lygend has issued a tender seeking 20,000t of sulphuric acid for end-March or early April arrival to Obi Island. The tender closes on 22 February. Lygend was most recently in the spot market for sulphur before the lunar new year holiday period, booking a 50,000t cargo of crushed lump sulphur for arrival in March at Obi Island. The cargo will be sourced from the Middle East. By Deon Ngee Send comments and request more information at feedback@argusmedia.com Copyright © 2024. Argus Media group . All rights reserved.

Latest events

23-25 April 2024
Abu Dhabi, UAE

Argus Fertilizer Asia Conference