AgriCensus Report

Chinese crushers snap up US soybeans after quota exemption meeting

Chinese private and state-owned crushers bought between 800,000 and 1.5 million mt of US soybeans on Monday, market sources told Agricensus, after a meeting in which the Chinese government said it would exempt about 1.5-1.6 million mt of imports from a 30% import tariff.

According to several market sources, purchasing managers at least six crushers met with officials from China’s commerce ministry on Monday, in which it was agreed to exempt the tariff for Q4 shipments.

“I heard several people who are in charge of [US soybean] quotas at private crushers were summoned to Beijing for meetings,” said one market participant who declined to be named.

“Yes, I heard that as well. They were summoned separately. Heard it was about a quota,” a second source said.

Market rumours suggest another 800,000-1.5 million mt was contracted – equivalent to 10-15 cargoes, with prices around 140 c/bu over November futures for November shipment.

Cargoes were also purchased for October and December loading.

Companies that were said to have received a quota include Cofco, Jiusan, Wilmar and Sinograin.

This week’s purchases come on top of about 1 million mt of US soybeans that crushers have made in the past fornight, with rumours suggesting a total of 5 million mt may be exempt from the tax, providing they are bought for shipment in the next five months and contracted in the next month.

The so-called “good-will” exemptions come as Chinese and US officials re-engaged in trade talks last week in a bid to resolve a trade dispute that has seen more than $500 billion worth of goods hit with import taxes.

The latest round of negotiations finished last Friday amid pessimism that little had been achieved after Chinese officials cancelled a field trip to see US crops.

Soybean futures on CME rallied 1.5% on the rumours to hit a six-day high of $8.99/bu.

US soybeans are offered on a delivered basis ex-PNW for delivery into North China at around 141 c/bu over November futures for October shipment CFR China.

That equates to around 64 c/bu ($23.5/mt) cheaper than Brazilian soybeans.

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Latest US soybean sales to China push week’s total to 720,000 mt

China picked up an additional 260,000 mt of US soybeans overnight to take total volumes booked since Thursday to 720,000 mt – equivalent to 11 full cargoes – according to reports on Tuesday from the USDA.

China removed import tariffs on an unspecified quota of US beans for a handful of private and state crushers last week as relations in the trade war between Beijing and Washington calmed, paving the way for new purchases.

The most recent purchases were likely lifted from the PNW for delivery in the fourth quarter, according to market sources, with purchased values on a CFR basis currently unknown.

It comes after Chinese importers booked seven cargoes – 204,000 mt on Thursday and 256,000 mt on Friday – at 148 c/bu over November futures out of the PNW on a CFR China basis.

With allocated tariff-free quotas estimated at 2-2.2 million mt by the market, more purchasing of US soybeans could be expected.

But with falling crush margins in China, this quota might not be filled as quickly as had been previously anticipated, despite US soybeans now being the most cost competitive at origin if shipped out of the PNW.

On Thursday, trade estimates had highlighted that up to 15 cargoes were concluded on that day alone.

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Germany to ban glyphosate herbicide by end of 2023

Germany will begin phasing out the use of the controversial herbicide glyphosate from next year and completely ban it from 2023 as part of measures rolled out by the country’s environment ministry on Wednesday to protect insects.

In July, neighbouring Austria was the first EU member state to ban the use of the chemical, despite current European legislation that licenses the use of glyphosate in the 28-country bloc until the end of 2022.

“The federal government will significantly reduce the use of glyphosate-containing plant protection products by a systematic reduction strategy from 2020 … and will completely end the use of glyphosate-containing plant protection products by 2023,” Germany’s environment ministry said in a statement.

It added that the widespread use of the chemical “eliminates plants that many insect species rely on as food sources”.

The action plan includes a wide range of measures such as an additional €100 million to spent on insect protection as well as new binding specifications for fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides.

Germany consumes around 5,000 mt of glyphosate a year, behind the EU’s number one consumer France, which uses 7,000 mt.

The move piles additional pressure on Germany’s Bayer, which bought glyphosate maker Monsanto last year for $63 billion and has been embroiled in multiple US lawsuits that claim the chemical causes non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer. The company denies the claims.

The German pharmaceutical and chemicals conglomerate said in response to Wednesday’s announcement that “such a ban would ignore the overwhelming scientific assessments of competent authorities around the world that have determined for more than 40 years that glyphosate can be used safely”.

Bayer is appealing against three judgments in the US that awarded damages totalling tens of millions of dollars, and faces another 18,400 cases in the US.

The renewal process for the EU license will start at the end of 2019, well before the 2022 expiry, with the review process led by the Netherlands, France, Hungary, and Sweden.

Germany was strongly criticised by some EU member states after it played a crucial role in extending a five-year licence for the herbicide in November 2017.

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China says using ASF vaccine could spread disease

China’s government said Monday that pig-breeders or farm industries that use vaccines against African swine fever could be responsible for spreading the disease further, as the country seeks to crack down on the dissemination of the drugs.

China’s ministry of agriculture and rural affairs said in a statement that it had yet to approve any vaccine and that the makers of the drugs would be banned from producing any vaccine in China if caught.

“As of now, countries around the world including China have not yet approved an African swine fever vaccine to be sold in the market. They are all illegal vaccines,” the ministry added.

The world’s largest pig-producing country is attempting to develop a vaccine to combat African swine fever, a disease that has caused the size of China’s pig herd to fall nearly 33% in July this year compared to the same month last year.

However, over the past few months several vaccines have reportedly been found in the Chinese market, raising fears that they could lead to further oubtreaks of the disease.

Activities involving producing, selling and using one of those vaccines is “serious illegal conduct” and individuals or companies who were involved in such activities will be “banned for life”, the ministry said.

China has reported more than 140 outbreaks of ASF disease across all provinces in the country since August last year.

The development of ASF has been closely watched by both the animal feed and meat industry in China, as a large part of China’s total soybean imports are crushed into soymeal to feed the country’s massive pig industry.

Pork prices in China have risen to an all-time high this month as pork supply has shrunk in the country.

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Brazil-US soybean spread hits nine-month as trade war heats up

The difference in price between Brazilian and US soybeans loading out of the US Gulf has hit its highest level since November as the bilateral trade war between the US and China heats up in the wake of new Chinese US soybean import tariff announcements.

The price of soybeans loaded out of the Brazilian port of Santos for October shipment hit $374.50/mt on Friday compared with $327.50/mt from the US Gulf, according to Agricensus data.

The spread, which stands at $47/mt, is the highest level since November 12 last year as China’s announcement that it would increase soybean import tariffs to 30% from the current 25% starting September 1 weighed heavily on both the futures and US cash markets Friday.

Cash premium offers for loading out of the US Gulf in October slumped by 7 c/bu as sellers eyed little prospect of renewed Chinese demand anytime soon and bids remained scarce.

Flat prices fell by more than 2% on the day as a result, from $335.50/mt on Thursday.

Yet Brazilian premiums soared with offers up by 12 c/bu as exporters anticipated an increased of Chinese purchases both on a FOB and CFR basis which outweighed a weaker board and kept flat prices just $1.50/mt weaker on Thursday’s value to settle at $374.50/mt.

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Brazil output of corn-based ethanol to hit 1.4bn litres in 2019: USDA

Brazil’s production of corn-based ethanol will rise 75% this year as new capacity comes onstream and domestic demand surges as the country prepares to roll out its RenovaBio mandate program, the USDA said in a report late Monday.

Most of Brazil’s ethanol production is derived from sugar cane and is a significant exporter to the US and Europe, but its output includes a growing share of corn as that segment generates much better returns than the ailing sugar cane sector.

The USDA said total ethanol output from corn this year is estimated at 1.4 billion litres, an increase of 609 million litres compared with 2018.

The US government researchers noted that there are currently 10 plants producing ethanol from corn in Brazil in the states of Mato Grosso and Goias.

It added that four plants under construction that should start operations in the next 1-2 years and cited figures from the country’s Corn Ethanol National Union (UNEM) that the Latin American nation is forecast to produce 2.6 billion litres of corn ethanol in 2020 and 8 billion litres by 2028.

Brazil’s overall production of fuel ethanol is expected to rise 4% this year as the world’s second-largest producer of the biofuel finalises rules and trading mechanisms for its mandate programme and prepares to step up exports, the USDA said.

The research said Brazil’s total ethanol production for 2019 is estimated at 34.45 billion litres, an increase of 4% compared with the revised figure for 2018.

Brazil’s consumption of fuel ethanol is expected to rise to 31.75 billion litres in 2019, up 7% from 29.7 billion litres last year, as “steady and strong demand for hydrated ethanol at the pump is pushed by continued high gasoline prices in the majority of the Brazilian states,” the USDA said.

The researchers added that decisions made by Brazilian consumers are usually made on the basis of the ratio between hydrous ethanol and gasoline prices.

“The 70% ratio between hydrous ethanol and gasoline prices is the rule of thumb in determining whether flex car owners choose to fill up with hydrous ethanol (price ratio below 70%) or gasoline (price ratio above 70%),” the USDA said.

It added: “This decision is tied to the energy content of each fuel and the fact that ethanol’s energy content is approximately 36% lower than pure fossil gasoline.”

International trade

The USDA’s Sao Paulo-based research team said Brazil’s total ethanol exports are estimated to be 1.8 billion litres this year, up 11% compared with total exports in 2018, which totalled 1.62 billion litres.

“In spite of the competition to supply domestic demand, exports have benefited from windows of opportunity opened by spikes in US ethanol prices,” the USDA said.

Brazil’s total ethanol imports for 2019 are estimated to be 1.2 billion litres, a decrease of 495 million litres relative to the previous year.

The Latin American nation’s imports of ethanol are for fuel use only and originate almost entirely from the US, the research pointed out.

The USDA estimated that Brazil’s production of soybean-based biodiesel, which is estimated at 5.8 billion litres, would rise 8% relative to 2018, based on an estimated 0.8% growth rate for the Brazilian economy in 2019 and the increase of the biodiesel blend to 11% (B11) next month.

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Argentine ags trade fears higher export taxes amid election shock

The increasing likelihood that Argentina’s incumbent President Mauricio Macri will lose the presidential election in October has stoked concerns in the country’s grains and oilseeds market that high export taxes – a trademark policy of the previous government under the populist Cristina de Kirchner – will return.

The results of a primary election on Sunday were a massive setback for Macri’s market reform-centred agenda, hugely heightening expectations that the centre-left, interventionist coalition Frente de Todos will take power just months from now.

If this comes to pass, the new government is expected to implement fixed export taxes in a reprise of the policies of former president De Kirchner, who is a running mate of the centre-left’s leader Alberto Fernandez.

That is because further falls in the peso – which on Monday at one stage plunged 30% against the US dollar – will make the flexible formula enacted by the Macri government less sustainable.

At present, the export tax formula for corn and wheat is calculated as 4 pesos for every US dollar that is exported, while for soybeans, the current tax is at a fixed 18% with an additional 4 pesos for every US dollar over that threshold.

But since yesterday, the value of the variable 4 peso level has become lower,  paving the way for a possible hike in taxes if government coffers start to dry up.

“Under [currency] devaluation, export taxes became cheaper day-on-day,” an Argentinian broker said in reference to the fall in the proceeds of export taxes as the value of peso crashed.

Market sources based in Argentina said it is likely a potential left-wing government will raise export taxes, particularly on wheat and corn, to around 20%-23%.

“That would be honey for a new [Frente de Todos] government,” a source said.

IMF loan

“A new Kirchner administration will tax exports [more] if they run out of IMF assistance. Although you would not expect that to happen during 2019,” an Argentine broker said.

Fernandez has vowed to renegotiate the terms of a $57 billion loan the country received from the International Monetary Fund in 2018 intended to help the heavily-indebted country to service future borrowing.

Farmer sales

Despite the initial reluctance to sell soybeans following the peso’s crash on Monday, reports from market sources on Tuesday indicate that at least 250,000 mt of soybeans were sold on the domestic market in Argentina yesterday as farmers sought to capitalise on the fall in the peso despite expectations that the currency will fall further in the coming months.

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THE BIG READ: Why trade tensions won’t worry Chinese crushers

In late May 2018, shortly after claiming his administration was making good progress in talks to avoid a trade war with China, US President Donald Trump confounded the market by saying he would, within a month, publish a list of Chinese goods that would be subject to fresh import taxes of 25%.

The reaction was instantaneous – US soybean futures tanked, Brazilian premiums rose and the flat price of soybeans at Brazilian farms would go on a four-month rally to record highs.

That dynamic was in anticipation that China would slap a tax on US soybean imports – which it duly did.

Crush margins in China tanked and food inflation started to occur in protein products, with Chinese crushers struggling as a result.

Fast forward 14 months and things look very different.

On Thursday President Trump said he would tax $300 billion worth of Chinese goods at 10%, starting in a month.

US soybean futures fell and Brazilian premiums rose.

But this time, they only rose enough to offset the futures fall and there are several reasons why Brazilian flat prices for soybeans may not experience the rally they saw last year.

Lower demand, greater supply

Firstly, African swine fever will cut demand for Chinese soymeal.

On Thursday, the chief executive of global agribusiness major Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) said that pig stocks would fall by 35% this year as a result of the disease.

That equates to about 150 million pigs and about 15-20% of soymeal demand.

Yet, as big as that is, ADM’s estimate is conservative compared with some forecasters who now think pig stocks could be slashed by as much as half by the end of the year.

Given China relies on soybean imports for as much as 90% of its soymeal demand, the disease itself is now estimated to cut imports of soybeans to their lowest since 2015 at 83 million mt in the next marketing year, starting in October.

As well as a fall-off in demand, on the supply side of the ledger a huge rise in non-US production will also stem any rally in Brazilian bean prices.

Argentine production this year will rise to more normal levels of 56 million mt compared with 37 million mt last year – a hike of 18 million mt.

And with a more punishing tax regime for Argentinian crushers that export soymeal this year compared to last, exports of beans are expected to soar from 2 million mt last year to at least 9 million mt and perhaps as high as 16 million mt as a smaller percentage of soybeans produced in Las Pampas will be crushed.

And with that more than offsetting a 14 million mt decline in Brazilian exports, it looks like China will be well-stocked, particularly given the fact that Chinese state-owned companies have already been stockpiling US beans this year.

Indeed, Chinese stocks at ports are at a five-month high, according to data from China’s National Grain and Oilseed Information Centre published Thursday.

“I don’t know how China will respond. It seems like the imports of US soybeans will stop again,” said one trader at a Chinese crusher following the tweet.

Bumper corn

That being said, it won’t all go China’s way should the new trade tensions result in a prolonged boycott of US beans by China as there are some upside pressures for non-US production.

A huge 100-million mt corn crop in Brazil, and the fact that Brazilian farmers are cashing in on it, means they are not under pressure this year to sell soybeans to finance next year’s crop.

That contrasts sharply with last year – when Brazil’s corn crop was hit badly by a drought leaving soybean sales as a necessary source of income.

And current prices of soybeans in Brazil in historical terms are not that high, meaning farmers won’t be in a hurry to sell.

Indeed, the price of soybeans sold at ports in Brazil in reais terms are only marginally higher than the average so far this year and 20% down on the peak last year.

With internal freight prices higher this year than last, it is likely farmers will drive a hard bargain and won’t be selling cheap, according to sources.

Good news for EU

While Brazilian prices more or less flatlined after Trump tweets on Thursday, US cash prices at ports sank alongside futures, leaving the spread between beans loaded at Santos and those at the US Gulf spiking $5/mt to just under $21/mt.

To put this in to context, freight and quality differentials mean US beans are competitive into China when they are about $16/mt below Brazilian prices, so on the face of it they look very cheap.

Nevetheless, that $21/mt differential remains a long way off the $96/mt seen in October at the height of the trade war, and European crushers who buy imported beans will be keen to see how far that differential can grow.

Unless things change dramatically, it’s hard to see why anyone in Europe would buy non-US beans.

But for now, the bets in China are that instead of injecting a fresh round of urgency into the talks with the US, they may actually prolong a trade war.

“New tariffs will by no means bring closer a deal that the US wants. It will only make it further away,” the chief editor of state-owned newspaper the Global Times said on Twitter on Friday.

Given that the US is drowning in supplies of soybeans – with more than 1 billion bushels of ending stocks expected later this month – US farmers will be more keen to sell to China than China to buy from the US.

And with next year’s elections coming into closer view, the administration will be under pressure to help farmers – a key support base for Trump – shift some agricultural products to China.

Trump’s statement on Thursday showed how important the promised purchases of products such as soybeans, ethanol and sorghum by China are to him – alongside sales of opioids they were the only two issues mentioned in his 7am tweet.

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Half of China’s pig herd to be wiped out by 2020: Rabobank

China’s pork herd is expected to be halved by the end of 2019 as fresh outbreaks continue to be reported, with the government failing to get a grip on the rapidly-spreading deadly pig disease, Dutch lender Rabobank said.

China’s current pig herd is already estimated to be 40% smaller than last year’s, with the pace of the decline set to ease during the second half of the year “due to the large slaughter in the first half of 2019,” the bank said in its Pork Quarterly Q3 update.

The Dutch lender expects a further 10% to 15% cut in China’s herd size and pork production in 2020.

The disease has been rapidly spreading around Asia, with China’s neighbouring countries on high alert as it spreads further across Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, and more recently North Korea.

“Given its rapid progression, we suspect all Asian pork herds are at risk of ASF within the year. We expect Vietnam’s pork production to drop by 15% to 20% year-on-year in 2019.” the bank said.

Rabobank added that it expects “disease pressures” to affect global animal production in the next half-decade, with Chinese pork production expected to take up to five years to recover to levels prior to the outbreak.

“Challenges of restocking include lack of solutions to disease prevention, lack of capital, higher investment requirements, and other long-term issues, such as limited land access and strict environmental standards” will all lead to a long recovery process, the bank said.

Yet pig producers in exporting countries are not increasing their production in response to China’s protein deficit, except for the US where there has been significant growth, as producers “remain cautious and would rather observe than take concrete steps to expand”.

Almost all large pork exporters have seen volumes shipped to China increase this year apart from the US, amid high import tariffs placed on American meat as part of the ongoing trade dispute.

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ANALYSIS: Iran standoff raises corn fears after Bolsonaro backing

It took time for Brazil’s corn sector to react to the news that Brazil’s national oil company, Petrobras, had refused to refuel two Iranian-flagged freighters when they called at Paranagua last week.

The Bavand and the Termeh remain at anchor as of Tuesday, with Brazil shipping line up data showing the Termeh chartered by Tehran-based Arzesh to carry 66,000 mt of corn to Iran, expected to sail on August 25.

It is part of a flotilla of vessels that are loading 715,300 mt of corn, plus a cargo each of pellets and low protein meal, in the next six weeks – the tip of what has been a very successful export story for Brazil’s corn sector.

To date, this year Iran has soaked up over 2.5 million mt of Brazilian corn, with the origin stepping in where others have hesitated in the face of increased international restrictions.

Over the past five years, Iran has become the biggest single customer for Brazilian corn and 2019 imports already outpace Vietnam – the next biggest importer – at a ratio of 2:1.

While those restrictions haven’t been directed at food, the fear that a lucrative trade could be sacrificed to political alliances has spooked some of the country’s corn exporters.

“Petrobras has claimed that if it enables the tankers to get its fuel, they risk getting blacklisted as well, for breaking sanctions. President Jair Bolsonaro in turn has pledged loyalty to the US,” one market source said, and it is that connection that has struck a chord.

“This must be a Bolsonaro thing, he loves Trump,” a second market source said, with fears that the new president’s attempts to curry favour with his US counterpart will potentially leave Brazil’s corn trade sacrificed.

“The problem is that Iran is our biggest buyer of corn… (Bolsonaro) is not stupid, but yes, the fear (for corn exports) exists,” a second market source said.

There are factors that mitigate some of the perceived risk, however, with domestic politics and trading practicalities underpinning hopes the fate of the Bavand and the Termeh is an isolated one.

“It’s nothing to do with Bolsonaro,” a Brazil-based broker said, citing instead some of the domestic fallout from Brazil’s own anti-corruption ‘lava jato’ investigations and the rare involvement of two Iranian-flagged vessels.

“There are still sellers willing to do Iran, but Iran will have to pay a premium. Today it is between 20 and 25 cents/bu on the sell side,” the broker added, with bids adding a 5-10 cent premium.

And, while Bolsonaro has said his government is aligned with Washington on Iran sanctions, the worst-case scenario would be a pledge to curtail corn exports to Iran.

Such a step would spark a huge domestic backlash, according to one agriculture analyst.

“Our agriculture representatives and senators, who are very strong – Bolsonaro depends on their goodwill to approve everything in Congress – would tell him, politely, that Brazil needs to export corn to Iran. He’d reconsider,” the analyst said.

“Iran is covered from Brazil out to September, so it’s not a big deal at the moment,” the broker said, and from there Ukraine and the Black Sea corn harvest becomes available.

Tipping point

While the imminence of the Black Sea corn harvest may change the dynamic, Ukraine’s own reaction to the imposition of sanctions could provide some pointers towards the potential issue facing Brazil.

Sellers in Ukraine, despite marshalling the biggest corn harvest in the country’s history and at a time when Russia’s corn harvest was badly hit by drought, have found their appetite to sell to Iran declining with the imposition of US sanctions.

Between January and May 2019, Ukraine exported around 777,365 mt of corn to Iran according to Ukrainian government figures, down 12% on the same period of 2018, and down 19% on the same period of 2017.

Wider bilateral trade between the two nations is also an Achilles heel, and Iran is not above tit-for-tat tactics, as British-flagged oil tankers discovered in the Straits of Hormuz this week.

“This can be the tipping point for Iran – if it blocks Brazilian corn… they may turn to Argentina or pay more for Ukraine. Iran is the third biggest meat importer from Brazil and Brazil imports a lot of urea from Iran as well,” the first source said.

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