Fertiliser affordability starts to improve after two turbulent years, report says

Extreme market volatility and record-high prices severely impacted fertiliser demand in 2022
Extreme market volatility and record-high prices severely impacted fertiliser demand in 2022

Affordability of fertiliser is starting to improve, and a rapid recovery in consumption is possible in some regions in 2023, according to a new Rabobank report.

In most cases, demand will take a while to return to pre-pandemic levels, the report, published today (25 May), says.

Extreme market volatility and record-high prices severely impacted fertiliser demand in 2022.

Starting in the first half of 2021, fertiliser prices began to trend higher due to supply constraints resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Affordability deteriorated further when fertiliser prices hit new record-high levels after Russia invaded Ukraine.

By that time, reasonable commodities prices were the only reason unaffordability didn’t surpass the record set in 2009 during the global economic crisis.

Bruno Fonseca, senior analyst at Rabobank, said: “Most fertiliser prices are gradually returning to their historical averages, and in some cases, like urea, current values are below historical levels already.

“On the commodities side, values remain above average in some cases, due to tighter stocks. The combination of these two factors is helping affordability.”

However, global consumption may take two or three years to recover, and the speed of recovery will depend on how long the current positive cycle lasts.

The spot Affordability Index, which shows the relative price of a basket of commodities in comparison to a basket of fertiliser, is already in positive territory.

The 12-month moving average is trending higher and on track to reach positive territory in the coming months.

“When the moving average becomes positive, the negative cyclical period that started at the end of 2021 will be over, which is positive for consumption,” Mr notes Fonseca.

Nitrogen-based fertilisers are very volatile, given their intrinsic connection with oil and natural gas.

Nevertheless, the necessity of buying back lost demand sent urea prices on a downward trend before it struck ammonia, Rabobank says in its report.

The subsequent price mismatch led the ammonia/urea ratio to skyrocket. It wasn’t until natural gas prices began to decline seasonally that ammonia followed suit, nearly halving the ratio.

Global demand for urea will benefit from price stability around current levels and will slowly rise throughout 2023 as it transitions from sluggish in 2022 to healthier in 2024, the report adds.

Unlike potash and nitrogen, phosphate prices soared last year after the war in Ukraine began, despite the input’s lower exposure to Russia.

Consequently, phosphate consumption during 2022 had a considerable and much anticipated drop. Despite weakened demand, prices remained at elevated levels, due in part to reduced Chinese exports.

The report says: "Now that Chinese domestic consumption is coming out of peak season, we might see Chinese volumes return to the global market, depending on the export parity, which might aid downward price movement.

"Potash prices continue to fall, but this is failing to raise demand. To be fair, the market has found some equilibrium with some well-timed good demand.

"Both Brazil and India have attracted volumes in recent months, yet that demand was unable to stop potash prices from dropping, given the ample supply."

Rabobank adds: "Regarding the vast supply, reports indicate an increase in Belarusian activity in the global market despite EU and US sanctions.

"If Belarus raises its market share, as most of the market expects, the increase in exportable volumes would push prices down even further. "