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Robusta coffee prices - will they outpace arabica in 2014?

Robusta coffee prices fell in 2013 by 14.3% on London's Liffe futures market.

But that was far better than the 23% drop in the, more expensive, New York-listed arabica beans, which were weighed by a strong Brazilian harvest, and a revival in Colombian output, as trees replanted during an anti-rust campaign matured.

Robusta has also gained demand momentum from a switch to the bean as its discount to arabica approached 200 cents a pound in 2010-11.

But now that gap has collapsed, will that demand switch reverse? And how will the robusta market deal with its own supply spurt, with the harvest in top-producer Vietnam seen hitting a record?

Commerzbank

"Since summer, robusta prices have moved in a similarly negative fashion as arabica prices after far outperforming them for a very long period.

Commerzbank forecasts for robusta coffee prices, 2014

Q1: $1,550 a tonne

Q2: $1,500 a tonne

Q3: $1,550 a tonne

Q4: $1,600 a tonne

Forecasts for quarter average, front London futures contract

"Nonetheless, arabica prices remain low relative to robusta prices when compared to their history. this should lead to a substitution of arabica for robusta in coffee consumption.

"The recent recovery of robusta prices was largely due to the fact that Vietnam's latest export numbers came in low despite what seems to have been a record-high harvest. The policy of holding back is apparently paying off, at least in the short run.

"We doubt robusta prices will be able to escape the pressure of a plenteous coffee supply in 2014 and don't expect its price to recover until the second half of the year to a level of $1,600 per tonne." 

Macquarie

"While we may revise lower our Brazilian 2014-15 on-crop outlook in light of new crop data due January, as well as arabica demand figures based on the recent robusta -to-arabica demand switching, we still think arabica prices will collapse from today's levels.

"But it will take a concerted plunge in robusta futures to trigger this first.

"We expect a sharp robusta prices sell off. The robusta fundamentals are less bullish this year, but the temporary dislocation of stocks is supporting the market.

"In our view, it is just a matter of time before supplies reach the necessary homes. Hedge pressure is beginning to come through now. And we expect the inverted Liffe robusta forward curve to eventually attract more grading for certification."

Phillip Futures

"The premium of arabica coffee to robusta coffee fell to multi-year lows [in 2013], hovering below 40 cents a pound.

"We refer back to 2011 when the premium of arabica coffee to robusta coffee surged to highs, causing roasters to switch from arabica coffee beans to robusta coffee beans instead.

"With the current situation of a low premium of arabica coffee to robusta coffee, we might witness roasters switching back to arabica coffee from robusta coffee, especially if prices of arabica coffee may be further weighed by oversupply. "

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