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Sulfur movers and shakers

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

At Sulphur 2014 Kimberly Gustin, Senior Consultant, Fertilisers, Sulphur and Sulphuric Acid, CRU took a look at the sulfur market and comment on the sector’s movers and shakers. Below is a discussion and overview of her presentation.

The sulfur market

Supply to the sulfur market had been reportedly muted for 2013 – 2014. However to 2019 shifts are expected around the world. North American supplies are expected to fall due to the increase in the supply of light sweet oil. In Latin America, there is likely to be a small increase in sulfur supply due to the expansion of brownfields. In Europe, the sulfur market is anticipated to become less competitive and heavy fuel oil demand is likely to drop.

Looking at demand, the phosphates market is going to provide the biggest increase in levels for the 2013 – 2014 period. To 2019, phosphates are expected to stay as a big sulfur demand base, with growth in demand hitting 4.7 million t. The industrial sector is going to be the second source of demand growth. China is expected to be the biggest consumer of sulfur to 2019 with a 45% increase in demand with US being the second. In 2013 China was already the biggest importer of sulfur with Kazakhstan being its main source.

Looking at trade in the sulfur market to 2019, it is anticipated that there will be an aggressive increase from the Middle East with the biggest increase coming from the UAE. Exports from Canada are expected to decrease by approximately 2 million t and Africa is expected to continue to import high levels of sulfur for phosphate production. What will stay in place however is the situation of supply outstripping demand with a surplus officially accumulating next year.

The movers and shakers


China has always been labelled as the sulfur show stopper, however over the last year things have changed slightly as the market has become more stable. Consumers in the country have also been consuming smelter acid which has hit the import market. Also there is more domestic sulfur available in the country which is also influencing the speculation on the market.

Also when it comes to China, policy in the phosphate market is expected to impact China’s demand to 2019. Industrial forecasts have also decreased month on month meaning smelter acid could increase and maintain a rise in sulfur consumption.


India is a very important sulfur market for the middle east and was indeed the root of all sulfur volatility in 2013. Demand is expected to come from the phosphoric acid market as well as industrial and non-acid sectors. There is also an anticipated deficit of 1 million t in the Indian market on the cards, but it is expected that Middle Eastern countries will compensate for it, particularly with imports from Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East

The Middle East is a big exporting region and is one of the most significant sulfur regions in the world. One third of all global exports come from the region and this is on track to increase by an extra 4.3 million t to 2016. It is also reported that the Middle East is still refusing to begin stock piling even though an anticipated increase of 7 million t of sulfur production is expected.

Iran is still a large sulfur exporter to China, despite there being trade sanctions on the country elsewhere in the world. Also when it comes to trade the UAE and Saudi are expected to begin fighting for a larger share of the sulfur global export market.


When it comes down to it, softening global prices in the sulfur market are being led by over supply and there is definitely going to be a surplus of sulfur next year. And the refusal of the Middle East to stock pile is going to put even more downward pressure on sulfur prices.

Written by Claira Lloyd

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