Stronger fertilizer demand projected through 2012
Although several fertilizer producers saw lower first-quarter profits due to lower than expected demand, the producers expect fertilizer demand to strengthen throughout 2012.
“Fertilizer buyers continued to move cautiously at the beginning of the year, especially with potash purchases, which impacted our performance during the quarter,” said PotashCorp President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Doyle in a statement. “Although we anticipated that an increase in global fertilizer purchasing would not take hold until the latter half of the first quarter, it took longer than we expected for demand to emerge. While the timing of that change was difficult to predict, the direction was not. We expect the acceleration in potash demand that began at the very end of the quarter will continue, supporting increased volumes through the remainder of the year.”
PotashCorp explained that buyers in all major potash markets were slow to commit to new purchases through most of the first quarter. Shipments from North American producers reflected this pause, declining 48 percent from the record level of last year’s first quarter. While underlying consumption at the farm level was expected to be strong globally, most dealers chose to defer major purchasing decisions rather than build inventory.
In North America, distributors felt little pressure to act quickly in light of elevated producer inventories and greater availability of offshore product. Offshore buyers slowed purchasing in the absence of new Chinese potash supply contracts and the deferral of shipments to India for previously contracted volumes with global suppliers. Although potash prices avoided the pricing volatility of solid phosphate fertilizer and nitrogen products in previous months, they pulled back slightly on limited demand and increased competitive pressures. In this environment, many buyers focused on consuming inventory and awaited greater certainty before committing to new purchases.
The North American solid phosphate market was impacted by similar caution among dealers, as domestic shipments of solid fertilizers declined from first-quarter 2011 levels. Shipments to offshore markets more than offset weak North American demand, largely as a result of strong movement to India, which had been limited in the first quarter of last year due to the early completion of contract deliveries. The slower demand environment that carried over from late 2011 resulted in solid phosphate fertilizer prices lower than in the first quarter of last year.