In another sign that the apocalypse has arrived, the prices of fertilizer have crashed. According to a recent report by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) the prices of anhydrous ammonia have fallen from over $1,000 per ton to around $500 per ton. It does not take a Nobel Prize in mathematics to figure that is a 50% decline. There are few reasons for the decline: natural gas prices have fallen, commodity weakness has created uncertainty for farmers, and the supply of fertilizer is outpacing demand.
Since the July peak, the price of natural gas has fallen 64% and roughly 80-90% of the input cost for anhydrous ammonia is attributable to natural gas. Furthermore, anhydrous ammonia is the basic ingredient for all nitrogen fertilizers. As agricultural commodity prices have declined, farmers are less certain about the average selling price for next year's crop and have become cautious about ordering fertilizer for the spring planting season.
More specifically, the fall in gasoline prices has reduced the demand and competitiveness of ethanol. The USDA recently trimmed its estimate for the size of the 2009 corn crop. The AFBF reported that many farmers intend to plant more soybeans. Soybeans' interesting characteristic is they actually put nitrogen in the ground, further reducing the demand for nitrogen fertilizers.
The International Fertilizer Association (IFA), released a report that estimated the supply of nitrogen fertilizer was going to outpace demand by the largest margin since 2007.
The big picture does not look great for the fertilizer companies. On January 5, 2009, Mosaic (MOS) reported earnings that beat estimates by $0.10. The company attributed the earnings to an average selling price for diammonium phosphate (DAP) of $1,083 per tonne. However, they also took a $293 million charge to write off the value of inventory. Due the crash in fertilizer prices they could no longer mark inventory at record prices.
On Tuesday January 13, 2009, Mosaic (MOS) held an analyst day.