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World fertilizer demand to resume?

The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) released its Fertilizer Outlook 2009-2013. The outlook report suggests that, after the sudden fall in demand during the 2008-2009 fertilizer campaign, a rebound may be expected for the 2009-2010 campaign.

The world fertilizer markets experienced a period of extreme volatility in 2008. The combination of a global economic downturn and a deepening credit crisis in most leading fertilizer-consuming countries dampened short-term prospects. Fertilizer sales and import demand collapsed through the fourth quarter of 2008. World fertilizer consumption is estimated down 5.1 percent, from 168.1 million tonnes (Mt) of nutrients in 2007-2008 to 159.6 Mt in 2008-2009. Consumption of nitrogen fertilizers is seen contracting by 1.6 percent, while demand for phosphate fertilizers and potash would decline more sharply, by some 7 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Because of lack of confidence and limited access to credit, farmers, in a number of countries, either deferred their purchases of inputs, including fertilizers, or chose to reduce application rates. The beginning of 2009 was dim for the fertilizer industry with disappointing sales prospects and weak demand recovery during the year.

However, IFA’s outlook reports show that the market conditions could be improving steadily for the 2009-2010 campaign because of the stable growth trends that have been experienced so far in the agricultural sector. Agricultural commodity prices are expected to remain attractive, thus encouraging farmers to increase crop production. In its baseline scenario, IFA estimates that the economic crisis can be translated in one to three years of lost growth in fertilizer demand.

Nevertheless, a gradual rebound might be felt as early as in the next six months. For the 2009-2010 campaign, a growth of 3.6 percent, representing 165.4 Mt of nutrients, is envisioned. In 2013-2014, a growth rate of 2.3 percent per annum (over the average of 2006-2007 to 2008-2009) could be anticipated, representing up to 187 Mt of nutrients by the end of that period.

IFA also forecasts a potential fertilizer supply surplus for the years to come. Between 2000 and 2007, the world fertilizer industry increased its overall operating rates for the three main nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). By the end of 2007, the industry was running at close to its maximum effective capacity. This explains the very tight market conditions that prevailed during the first half of 2008.

If such high demand had continued through the second half of 2008, a shortage of potash, phosphate and urea supply might have occurred. However, following the financial and economic crisis, a number of companies decreased dramatically their operating rates by temporarily closing down facilities. In the short term, the depressed demand for fertilizer and, in the long run, new projects coming into production in several countries are the main factors supporting the potential surplus argument, in particular in the potash and phosphate sectors.

TAGS: Management
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