Month: March 2019

A nasty turn around.

A fortnight ago the Bureau of Meteorology’s rainfall outlook wasn’t shaping up as too bad at least for the Southern parts of the country – how quickly it can all change. Yesterday’s release of the three-month outlook now points to a delayed Autumn break and much lower chance of rainfall exceeding the median across much of the Eastern half of the nation during March to May.

Cooler than average ocean temperatures to Australia’s west and south west have limited rainfall fronts crossing the country, leading to drier than usual conditions for all regions except for far north Queensland. A warming Pacific Ocean is keeping the prospect of an El Nino on the horizon and has seen the BOM forecast a drier than normal start to the Autumn break – Figure 1.

The bleak rainfall prospect and increased cattle yardings along the East coast conspired to see prices for younger store cattle and breeding stock ease this week with the Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) falling 3.6% to its lowest level in over three years to close at 434¢/kg cwt yesterday.

Cattle throughput in the Eastern states lifting 14% on levels set the week prior to sit 5% above the five-year trend for this time in the season – Figure 2.

Young cattle in the East not the only cattle type to register a decline this week with the Medium Cow indicator leading the percentage price falls to see nearly a 5% drop to 175.9¢/kg lwt. Feeder Steers also easing slightly, down 1.4% to 250.4¢/kg lwt. Although, Trade, Medium and Heavy Steers beginning to show signs of supply concerns by posting 1%-6% price gains this week across the Eastern states – Figure 3.

In the West young cattle prices held their ground, registering only a 2¢ easing to remain above 500¢/kg cwt and in beef export markets the 90CL Frozen Cow indicator has held onto the 4% price gain from mid-February to close this week at 642.4¢/kg CIF.

Next week

The spread between the EYCI and 90CL is now approaching levels that would be considered extreme. The EYCI is at a 32% discount to the 90CL and the spread has only gone beyond a 39% discount for 5% of the time during the last two decades.

This is likely to see young cattle prices find a price base in the short term ahead of crucial support levels at the 400-420¢ region.

The bears are out for barley

It’s been a tough month for grain producers both locally and globally, with prices falling dramatically. In this weeks update, we take a look at the December futures contract, basis and potential issues with barley into China.

The futures market has another tough week, with spot futures falling 6% since last Friday to end the month down 13%. In A$ terms wheat futures have retreated A$30/mt. The December wheat contract which coincides with our harvest has fallen to A$254 (figure 1), the lowest since early February last year.

The highest price since the contract commenced was achieved in August at A$311, this would have provided a strong base for marketing the coming crop, with basis yet to be added to your overall price. The current market structure is starting to provide improved opportunities for consumers to hedge their requirements for the coming year.

At present basis is largely unchanged since the start of the month, which has meant that most port prices have followed the futures fall by A$30. The exception seems to be in South Australia, with basis falling A$24 in Adelaide and A$19 in Port Lincoln. This has resulted in price falls across the board (figure 2), obviously exacerbated in South Australia due to substantial difference in basis.

The barley market is in a precarious situation at present, with prices falling (figure 3) due to risk concerns related to China. It is likely that the conclusion of the anti-competitive dumping investigation will be released imminently.

Through conversations with a number of industry contacts, the general consensus is that it will be negative towards Australia.  The expectations are that a deposit of 55-60% of the value of any vessel importing barley ex Australia into China. The Chinese government will review the import and then return the deposit, provided there are no issues.

At present this is merely rumors and the result could feasibly go the other way, however at present the risk in selling barley into China is high, which limits the appetite of exporters.

As a side note, it was reported that China has bought eight cargoes of barley ex Ukraine in the past week. Is this a portent of things to come, with them buying barley ahead of an announcement?

What does it mean/next week?:

The wheat market has fallen substantially in the past month, will we see short speculator start to profit take? The commitment of traders report is only just starting to get back up to date and it will be interesting to see how far short the market is.

China is going to be the big story over the next few days, not just for Australia but also the long-awaited results of discussions re US trade tariffs.

January records smashed for lamb exports

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) trade statistics for January show a 15.6% year on year increase in lamb exports and the gains in mutton export flows aren’t far behind, up 15% on January 2018. Despite posting similar volume gains, a breakdown of key destinations for the lamb and mutton export trade shows that the growth in demand is being driven from different regions.

Total lamb exports from Australia were reported at 21,541 tonnes swt, the highest January volume on record and coming in 21.4% higher than the five-year seasonal average for January – Figure 1. The January 2019 lamb export volumes were 15.6% above the 2018 level, boosted by record flows to the Middle East and the USA.

Australian lamb product to the Middle East totaled 6,487 tonnes swt, the highest January total on record, 25% up on January 2018 and 36% higher than the five-year average trend. Even stronger percentage gains were noted for the USA with the January 2019 lamb export volume of 5,593 tonnes swt also posting the highest January figure on record, increasing by 35% on January 2018 levels and 38% above the five-year average for January.

Mutton exports out of Australia for January 2019 show a similar lift in volumes, increasing 15% year on year to 15,485 tonnes swt – Figure 2. However, the significantly above average volumes for mutton during January were limited to Asian destinations, namely China, Singapore and Taiwan, to see the January flows sit 13.7% above the January five-year average.

Growth in mutton flows from Australia to China were up 18% year on year for January to see 4,805 tonnes swt consigned, the second highest volume for January and just a fraction short of the record 4,822 tonnes sent during January 2014 – Figure 3.

What does it mean/next week?

Last week we reported on strong beef export numbers for the start of 2019, fueled by growing Chinese demand, to see China overtake South Korea as the third top destination for Australian beef exports.

Perhaps the issues faced in China currently regarding African Swine Fever (ASF) and the reports of nearly one million pigs being culled due to the contagion are beginning to flow through to additional demand for alternative proteins, such as beef and mutton. It is early days yet, but it will be worthwhile to keep track of the ASF developments in China as the season progresses to determine what impact, if any, it is having on our export markets.

Key points:

  • Lamb exports recorded the highest January monthly total on record coming in 21.4% above the January seasonal five-year average at 21,541 tonnes swt.
  • Lamb consignments to the Middle East and USA underpinned the strong January results, with both destinations registering record January flows.
  • January mutton exports were supported by Asian demand growth, coming in 13.7% higher than the five-year average for January at 15,485 tonnes swt.

Sausages, coal and interest rates

The grain market is not only steered by agricultural factors, many of the driving forces behind price movements are out with the industry. In this weeks grain comment we look at how sausages, coal and interest rates can have an impact on our industry.

In yesterday’s grain analysis “Don’t get caught in the basis bubble”, I discussed the issues around overseas values plummeting. Overnight there was a small correction, albeit remaining very close to contract lows.

In figure 1, the APW1/CBOT basis is displayed from 2016 to present. As we can see our premium over Chicago increased dramatically during the second half of last year as drought bit hard. These level smashed all prior records.

As we can see, the basis level has dropped dramatically in the post-harvest period. If we get an average harvest the basis level will converge back with new crop pricing; at a level closer to historical ranges. The basis has saved our pricing, but there is limited chance of these levels being around during harvest (unless we have a drought).

Nationals senator Barry O’Sullivan, caused uproar in China with comments related to biosecurity:

there’s a bigger chance of us having a biosecurity breach by some bloody old Chinaman who brings in his favourite sausage down the front of his undies

It’s clearly not a great idea to insult the countries most important trading partner. There are rumors that this comment and festering tensions could lead to barley being impacted with an anti-dumping tariff in the coming month.

It is reported that the port of Dalian has banned imports of Australian coal which could be a symptom of deteriorating trade relations. The A$ dollar was under some pressure as the market digested the information. At present Dalian only receives <2% of Australian coal exports, however coal exports remain Australia’s most valuable export, and contagion to other ports would have a dramatic negative impact on the economy.

In 2018 it was widely expected that rate rises would commence in 2019. There are now forecasts of not one but two interest rate cuts in 2019. These two cuts (predicted at 0.25%) will reduce interest rates to 1%. The current record low rate of 1.5% has been held since August 2016 (figure 2).

A reduction in interest rates will lead to a fall in the A$ which will benefit exports but will increase the cost of our import requirements. If the rates are passed on, it will provide cheap money for investment purposes.

What does it mean/next week?:

The world looks towards the northern hemisphere weather. At present conditions are good, and in places excellent.

However there is still ample time for disasters to occur.

Signs of tightening supply

A nice lift in prices across the board for all NLRS reported categories of lamb and sheep along the East coast this week, as saleyard throughput figures suggest supply is on the wane. The Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator (ESTLI) gaining over 3% to close at 665¢/kg cwt.

Prices lifted between 1-6% on the week, with Restocker Lamb the worst performer of the bunch managing a meagre 5¢ lift to close at 646¢ (Figure 1). In contrast, East coast mutton was the standout jumping 6.4% to finish the week at 415¢/kg cwt.

East coast lamb yarding levels provide a clue to the current price behaviour. Throughput has eased 27% from the week prior to see the 2019 trend dip below the normal range for the first time this season with less than 135,000 reported through the saleyard last week. Indeed, since the start of the year average weekly lamb throughput levels have been running 14% below the five-year trend (Figure 2).

East coast sheep yardings posted a dive of a similar magnitude too, registering a 29% drop week on week. Despite the reduced sheep numbers, weekly levels remain just within the normal range at around 75,000 head as above average weekly NSW sheep throughput stems the broader east coast decline in sheep numbers (Figure 3).

Since the start of 2019, average weekly sheep throughput in NSW has been running 14.5% above the five-year average level. In contrast, Victorian sheep yarding levels have been trending 9% below the five-year average, while South Australian sheep throughput has been 20% softer than the seasonal average.

Next week:

There is nothing of note in terms of rainfall on the BOM weekly forecast for sheep and lamb rearing regions, but the dwindling supply is probably enough to keep prices sustained as we head toward Autumn.