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Sugar prices - can they break their losing streak in 2014?

Sugar prices fell in 2013 for a third successive year, undermined by a third successive season of production exceeding consumption, and the prospect of a fourth.

However, the pace of price decline at least slowed, a little. Prices might have fallen further had Brazilian mills not turned more of their bumper cane crop into ethanol, leaving sugar output in the key Centre South region flat on that a year before.

Furthermore, consumption has proved more resilient than many expected, prompting some downgrades later in the year of estimates for the production surplus in 2013-14.

Will fundamentals recover sufficiently to lift sugar prices in 2014? Or will strong Indian and Thai output help keep values depressed?

Commerzbank

"Although the 2013-14 production surplus will probably be only half the size of the previous year, the sugar market will remain very well supplied for the time being.

"Given the outlook for a further reduction of supply in 2014-15, there could be a moderate rise in prices in the course of 2014, as sugar prices in many producing countries are currently quoting below production cost.

"After four years of surplus, the best that might emerge is a balance of supply and demand.

"But that prospect, given in particular the sharp increase in stockpiles to a record level over the last years, is not about to scare anyone. Nonetheless, it is an outlook that should lead to a slight increase in sugar prices in the course of 2014.

"For the fourth quarter of 2014 we expect a sugar price of 19.5 cents per pound. If supplies continue to tighten, the positive price trend could continue in 2015."

Macquarie

"In its fourth season of excessive supplies, sugar prices will need to be priced at around current levels into the first quarter of 2014 in order to attract more demand and absorb some of the surplus carryover.

"But from a longer view point, sugar is already very cheap, and supply has begun responding to this. Beet producers are planting less, and Brazil will diversify more of its cane to ethanol.

"As we enter 2014-15, the market will be more balanced and we should see a rebound [in prices] in the second half of 2014."

Phillip Futures

"With a raw sugar market that is oversupplied, we see Thailand and Indian supplies increasingly flooding the market, especially when there are already abundant Brazilian raw sugar supplies.

"With so much raw sugar supplies, we expect prices to be vulnerable to further losses.

"However, strong demand from China and Indonesia could provide some support to raw sugar prices."

"Thailand is facing political turmoil as anti-government protestors are trying to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's government ahead of a February election.

"As Thailand is the world's largest exporter after Brazil, the political situation in Thailand has to be monitored.

"Should the political uncertainty worsen as it leads up to the February election… protests and strikes may occur. Raw sugar exports could potentially be adversely affected and this may be a source of support to raw sugar prices."

Rabobank

"Raw sugar futures are expected to maintain a narrow trading range during 2014, edging higher in the second half of 2014 as global supply and demand shifts to a more neutral balance.

"However, the record large ending stocks position of 73m tonnes forecast for 2013-14 and further dollar strength is expected to limit the upside for sugar prices during 2014.

"Our base case… assumes that a production surplus of 2.9m tonnes will be reached in 2013-14. The 2014-15 global sugar balance is expected to transition to a neutral-to-deficit balance, capping ending stock growth for the first time in four seasons.

"Although it is very early to predict the final balance, we expect that prices will edge marginally higher during the second half of 2014 in response.

"However, currency weakness across key sugar exporters, including Brazil and Australia, is expected to drive producer selling opportunities, especially during the harvest in the second half of 2014, limiting the upward trajectory of prices."

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