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There is no ho-hum in sorghum.

It’s been a while since we looked at the sorghum market, and its going gangbusters. A series of events have transpired to raise sorghum pricing levels for producers, although unfortunately for feed lotters this is raising their overall costs.

In the 2017/18 season, northern NSW and Queensland were impacted by very poor growing conditions, this obviously led to an overall decline in yields. The NNSW and QLD regions are dominated by the domestic market, with the bulk of the countries cattle feed lotters, and a high number of pig farms, in the region.

The drought has caused domestic buyers to pay up in order to compete against the export market resulting in ships of barley being sent from South Australia for feed purposes. In figure 1, the seasonality of sorghum on the Darling Downs is displayed. As we can see, the advance in sorghum pricing has been astronomic since September 2017. The current average price for April is $92/mt above average.

At this point of the year, the seasonal pattern is for a decline in prices from Jan-Apr as the summer crop is taken into account. This season has been very much against the mold. It is worthwhile examining how this compares against the long term.

In figure 2, the weekly price from 1997 to present is displayed. As we can see, the only years to achieve these current pricing levels were in 2002 and 2007. This coincided with major droughts, and also in 2007 the height of the commodities boom. There is no denying that these prices represent close to the best prices in twenty years.

The next factor, which is yet to play out, is China. In the past fortnight China concluded their investigations into allegations of sorghum dumping by the US. This has resulted in a required deposit of 178.6% of the shipment value. This has made US sorghum imports into China unviable, and ships in transit have been diverted to alternate destinations.

In figure 3, we can see the influence of China on the sorghum market. Prior to this decade, China barley rarely imported 1% of the global trade in sorghum. The past five years have seen them import on average 73% of the global trade!

If demand for sorghum continues in China, and high deposits remain in place for the US, then sorghum producers have some interesting times ahead of them.

What does it mean/next week?:

The sorghum market is being assisted by the lingering effects of the 2017/18 drought in NNSW & QLD, high levels of stock on feed & political tensions between the US and China.

Prices are currently at very high levels, but it remains to be seen how long they will continue their upward trajectory.

Key Points

  • The drought in 2017/18 is continuing to have an impact on prices of all cereals in NNSW/QLD.
  • A high number of cattle on feed in QLD, continues to provide strong demand for cereals.
  • Anti-dumping deposits by China are making US sorghum imports unviable.

Good timing for a short week.

With ANZAC day falling in the middle of the week, cattle supply was well down. Young Cattle yardings halved, and young cattle prices managed to remain steady. Other cattle categories followed a similar trend, as the market treads water waiting for rain.

The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) managed to find some support this week on the back of much lower cattle yardings. The lack of sales on Wednesday obviously helped see yardings fall, but there was also a major pull back in supply as producers baulked at the lower prices.

Figure 1 shows the yo-yo that has been EYCI yardings over recent weeks. It will be interesting to see where yardings head when we get back to a full week and with persistent low prices.

The EYCI did manage to steady however, with young cattle prices in Queensland, Victoria and NSW all managing to hold their levels at just under 500¢/kg cwt for the 270-290¢/kg liveweight range.

A few anecdotes we heard this week suggest light and restocker cattle might have found a base. There have been a few big yardings around, and prices managed to move higher as many backgrounders have decided they are cheap enough to take a punt on some rain arriving soon.

There is little doubt we will see a price rise when it does rain, but the trend in 2012 (figure 2) is looking eerily similar to current price moves. The market was then coming off record highs, similar to what we have seen recently. A lack of spring rain obviously helped the end of year fall.

The week ahead

So we wait another week for some rain to appear on the forecast. The longer we wait the more pressure comes on prices as potential autumn growth declines. It’s only five weeks until winter. Export prices have declined, but this doesn’t eliminate upside, with the 90CL still north of 550¢, which is a price many growers would take for their cattle at the moment.

Prices regain a foothold despite firmer supply.

National lamb and sheep prices at the sale yard closed the week with small gains, although on a state level the story was more mixed. NSW, Victorian and Tasmanian categories performed relatively well, while SA and WA posted a few declines across their lamb and sheep categories.

The Eastern States Trad Lamb Indicator (ESTLI) staged a solid recovery, up 4.6% to 597¢. East Coast Mutton improved too, albeit slightly more muted with a 2.4% gain to 426¢/kg cwt – figure 1. In Victoria most categories of lamb and mutton posted gains between the 0-4% range, although Vic Merino Lamb were the star performer with an 18% lift to 591¢. NSW lamb categories all scored a rise within magnitude of 1-3%. NSW Mutton was the best on ground, recording a 5.3% lift to 415¢.

Heading to SA, and all reported sale yard categories apart from SA Trade Lambs were unable to break into positive territory, with SA Mutton the laggard – off 18% to 292¢. Further West the price declines continued to hamper most lamb types, the exception being WA Merino with a 3% lift to 604¢. The West Australian Trade Lamb Indicator (WATLI) was nearly unchanged at 612¢, while WA Mutton was slightly softer to post a 3.6% decline to 404¢.

Considering the strong supply continuing to come out of NSW which is providing a boost to the combined East Coast Lamb and Sheep slaughter levels, the price improvements on the week are a sign of robust demand. Figure 2 highlights the elevated supply scenario with the combined lamb and sheep slaughter posting a second consecutive week above 510,000 head. This level of slaughter across the East coast is 9% above the seasonal five-year average and a 40% over the same week in the 2017 season.

Figure 3 gives a clue as to what is underpinning the current demand. Offshore players are benefitting from a softer A$ over the first quarter of 2018 and keeping Australian lamb and mutton competitive in overseas terms despite the relatively high domestic prices. Indeed, since the January peak in the ESTLI in US$ terms at 550US¢, there has been an 18% decline to finish this week at 450US¢/kg – placing the ESTLI near the lowest levels seen for offshore buyers in over 10 months.

What does it mean/next week?:

No rainfall is forecast for the nation beyond 10mm in the coming week, providing little relief for producers looking for the Autumn break. This is likely to see elevated supply continuing to keep a lid on any significant price gains and, while the A$ continues to trend lower, offshore demand should remain robust.

It’s looking like a bit of sideways price action for the time being, that is, until the rains arrive in the South to deliver a bit of a lift, both to spirits and prices.

Weaker Au$ helps wool market.

The Au$ slipped below US$0.76 this week and provided a lift for the wool market. Tuesday the market opened for the week and presented strong price lifts across the board. The EMI rose 22 cents, but the story was not so bright when viewed in US$, the EMI actually lost 20 cents.

With Wednesday being a holiday for ANZAC Day, once the market resumed on Thursday Merino types all eased back. However, strength was still noted in the crossbred section where they posted consecutive days of stronger prices.

With a much-reduced offering compared to last week of 42,621 bales, and a softening Au$, the Eastern Market Indicator (EMI) lifted 21 cents to 1846 cents, while in US$ terms the EMI gave up 27 cents over the week to settle at 1398 cents (Figure 1). Fremantle sales also fared better, the Western Market Indicator (WMI) gained 15 cents to 1949 cents.

The AU$ was a key influence on this week’s market. It’s held steady over the past couple of weeks at US$0.77 or better, however this week it slipped below the US$0.76 cent mark.

In line with the generally stronger market, the pass in rate also fell to 3.8% on Tuesday and 3.1% on Thursday; while nationally 3.6% was passed-in for the week.

This week’s currency induced rally has provided wool sellers with new high’s, and welcome strong prices for fine wool types.

Buyers are showing concern regarding future offerings, with a feeling that there may be less wool available than previously expected. Reduced fleece weights, and the earlier shearing of some sheep in the back half of 2017 to reduce stocking rates, both on account of the dry conditions, has some forecasters warning that offerings could slip below the offerings of the same period last year.

To date this season, average weekly sales have been around the 42,000-bale mark, up 3,000 bales per week on season 2016-17. This gap may close in the remaining months of this season.

It is interesting to look at the medium types though, our records go back to July 1981, and over this period the 21 to 28 MPG’s have never been higher. Much of this market strength is due to the diminishing supply of these types; it is however a strong underpinning of any finer MPG’s and the wool market in general.

In fact, crossbred types were the standout for the week, especially the finer ones. They now sit back at or above the previously set recent highs.

Skirtings were reported by AWEX as receiving increased buyer interest across the week and were quoted dearer on each selling day.

Merino Cardings had another good week, however a more modest improvement across the three cardings indicators, but overall strong and solid demand.

The week ahead

There are an optimistic 43,315 bales rostered for next week, however the roster falls below 40,000 for the following weeks.

The market signals this week was that fine types were expensive and if not for currency relief we would have seen prices lower.

Medium and fine crossbreds however, along with skirtings and cardings seem to be bounding along, a case of glass half full for growers but at a time when overall it’s good to be a seller.

Global wheat stocks set to ‘crash’.

The world has been awash with wheat over the past six seasons. The adoption of modern farming practices and favorable weather around the world has created a situation where we have produced too much. We take a look at some new projections, and what has driven prices up in the past week.

I’ll admit, that it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that wheat stocks are crashing. Overnight the International Grains Council (IGC) have lowered their expectations for the 2018/19 global crop, with production falling 16.9mmt year on year, and end stocks down 3.4mmt. As we can see in figure 1, this is the first year since 2012/13 that end stocks are predicted to fall.

Although the world will still be left with abundant stocks at the end of the season, it will only take further downgrades in this season and 2019/20 to start placing pressure on supplies. Although it’s not nice to say, we need farmers in other territories to have a bad time.

The wheat market gave a solid attempt at a rally throughout the middle of the week, with futures up A$14/mt from the end of last week on Thursday. However, as we regularly witness with wheat maintaining a rally is a struggle, and A$3-4/mt were lost overnight (figure 2). It is expected that a large proportion of the fall overnight was spec driven, yet the fundamentals are still in play for a volatile futures market and we may yet see further advances due to US weather concerns.

As all farmers in Australia know, Anzac day is the traditional point when the planting of the crop goes into full swing. In our conversations with growers around the country, it is clear that a lot of the crop is going into the ground dry, with the hope of some starting rains in the coming weeks. At present the soil moisture profile (see map) remains poor across the bulk of the Australian wheat belt.

What does it mean/next week?:

Producers: The focus will continue to be on planting the crop and performing rain dances. The buyers are likely to continue paying strong basis levels whilst major crop concerns persist. This will allow Australian producers to maintain a strong premium above international levels.

Consumers: There is a long way to go before harvest, and the rain could come and produce a bountiful crop, however it is worthwhile enacting a risk management plan to ensure that you are not exposed to worst case scenarios.

Strike whilst the iron is hot.

The wheat market has regained some of its strength on the back of fundamentals. This is great timing as we start to plant the crop for the coming season. In this week’s comment, we look at the SRW/HRW spread and the iron ore market.

The wheat futures market has improved over the past two sessions, to return to the levels from mid-Thursday last week (figure 1). The trade continues to be concerned about weather conditions in the US, both with the winter crop, and potential issues with spring crop planting.

In Texas, Oklahoma and Kansa, drought ratings remain severe (see map). The continued drought conditions have started to place a premium on the HRW grown in these areas (figure 2). The spread between HRW and SRW has been very narrow in recent years but have now started to branch from one another. Many will remember the same happening last year with MGEX futures, heading to a massive premium over SRW/HRW.

The Australian dollar has continued to remain strong at a range between 76¢ and 78¢, for the past two months. In the past week, an upsurge in crude oil prices, has flowed onto the iron ore market, with an expectation of increased demand. In figure 3, Singapore iron ore futures are illustrated alongside the A$. We can see a relationship between the two, which points towards a strengthening of the A$ if the iron ore rally is sustained.

A rise in the A$ will make our export products less attractive, however on the flipside will in theory make our imported products cheaper (fertilizer/chemicals/machinery).

What does it mean/next week?:

The situation in the US is poor, and the further we get through the year with sustained drought conditions the less likely they will have a reversal of fortunes. The question still remains, with huge global stocks, how far can the market go?

A sea of red as EYCI dips under 500¢.

A glance at the weekly cattle price changes are an uncomfortable sight both domestically and in key offshore markets. Local prices are under pressure from the weight of throughput, particularly out of NSW and Queensland, while the 90CL beef export price to the US succumbed to concerns of high supply.

Table 1 highlights the weekly movement of East coast domestic cattle prices along with a measure of the movement from last season’s price levels. The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) is off 3.7% to 495.7¢/kg cwt, as a lacklustre start to the Autumn break forces producers to bring forward stock to market.

The EYCI moves were mirrored in all other cattle categories, although Trade and Heavy Steers are holding up reasonably well in comparison to other classes with declines of only 1.3% (281¢/kg lwt) and 2.6% (260¢/kg lwt), respectively.  Medium cow, the worst effected on the week, had a 12.7% drop to finish at 173¢/kg lwt.

The Western Young Cattle Indicator(WYCI) is also matching the trend with a 2.4% fall to close at 562¢/kg cwt. In offshore markets, the 90CL frozen cow appears to be reacting to concerns over anticipated high fed cattle slaughter levels in the US over April driving it to drop 3.2% to 566.5¢/kg CIF – Figure 1.

Increased cattle throughput was noted across all states this week. The big increases were particularly evident in NSW and Queensland when compared to their respective five-year seasonal average levels. Current NSW throughput is 73% higher than the seasonal pattern, QLD is at 67% higher and WA is sitting 43% above. In contrast, Victoria and South Australian cattle throughput only marginally over their five-year seasonal pattern at 1.4% and 1.2%, respectively.

The impact of the high NSW and Queensland throughput is evident in the broader East coast yarding levels with the 84,395 head sitting 50% higher than the seasonal five-year pattern for this time in the year – Figure 3.

What does it mean/next week?’

Apart from the coastal extremities of NSW and Southern Queensland, there is not much rainfall on the horizon for the week ahead for much of the nation. Cattle prices are likely to remain under pressure while the Autumn break in the South remains elusive.

The 90CL is approaching key support at the 550¢ region so may fortify local young cattle prices if it can hold this level. a .

Wool market striding forward.

This week according to AWEX the wool market was “striding forward without retreat’. Despite the obvious military connotations, it’s not a bad description. Not only were buyers bidding higher for the “better spec’s” wool types, the strong demand was observed across the board.

After last week clearing more than 50k bales, this week only 38,275 bales were cleared to the trade from a total offering of 39,605 bales, resulting in a pass-in rate of just 3.4%. To compare, the average weekly pass-in rate this season is 6.1%.

The issue of the variability in weekly offerings is a factor on the market, with a variation of over 10,000 bales in the past two weeks. There is an argument that some effort in managing sale offerings to avoid these large discrepancies is warranted, mainly to assist exporters in managing orders; the question though is who should be responsible. Perhaps it’s an issue for the National Council of Wool Selling Brokers to develop guidelines and policy?

The impact of the reduced supply on the market was significant, with the Eastern Market Indicator (EMI) lifting by 29 cents on the first selling day and a further 20 cents on Thursday to see it close for the week at 1825 cents, while in US$ terms the EMI found an additional 49 cents to settle at 1425 cents (Figure 1).

This places the EMI just 8 cents shy of the previous recent record level set in February.

The AU$ rallied 0.5 cents over the week to US$0.78, while the Western Market Indicator (WMI) gained 50-cents to 1934 cents.

As the season progresses, the amount of low yielding wool increases, AWEX reporting that more than half this week’s offering was measured at less than 65% yield. This places increased pressure on buyers sourcing the better style and higher yielding types.

Crossbred types joined the rally, posting better levels daily to finish the week strongly. As an indicator, the 28 MPG in Melbourne added 38 cents for the week. A standout quote was the 25 MPG in Melbourne that was quoted up a staggering 130 cents, almost 10% gained for the week. Stronger microns didn’t miss out with the 30 MPG adding a massive 50 cents for the week.

Merino skirtings posted improved levels each day and closed the week on a very solid note.

Merino Cardings had another good week. The stand out was in Fremantle where the Cardings indicator recorded a huge 72 cent lift for the week.

The week ahead

Next week, just under 44,000 bales are offered which is a slight increase on this week’s sales. The following weeks are currently rostered to offer less than 40,000 bales per week.

The large clearance in the first week after Easter provided an insight into the current demand, and this week the buyers surprised with the margin of the price rally. It seems a fair bet that next week the February EMI high point will be broached.