Russia will prove prepared to impose wheat export curbs,
Goldman Sachs said, forecasting a 70% collapse in the country's shipments, and
slashing hopes for world production of the grain.
The bank, cutting to 652.1m tonnes its estimate for the global
wheat harvest, downgraded its estimate for the Russian crop to 43.0m tonnes,
"Forecasts for continued hot weather in Russia in August
could further damage the spring wheat crop," said Goldman, whose estimate represents
a 24% slump in Russia's overall wheat harvest year on year.
The estimate also leaves the crop only 1.5m tonnes above the
drought-hit 2010 result which spurred Russia to ban grain exports, curbs which,
with the country typically a major supplier of competitively-priced wheat, sent
prices soaring worldwide.
This year, an outright ban looks less likely, given that
Russia's overall grains harvest will, at 70m-77m tonnes, be at least 8m tonnes
higher, and with 5m tonnes still left in government stocks from buying
programmes aimed at supporting prices, including some in 2011-12.
Furthermore, Russia will on August 22 join the World Trade
Organization, a factor which many commentators have pointed out limits the
country's scope for imposing trade restrictions.
However, Goldman, forecasting a 70% slump in Russia's grain
exports to 6.5m tonnes in the newly-started 2012-13 marketing year, said that "if
needed, this [crop in exports] would be achieved through export restrictions,
such as taxes".
"This would be a similar approach to what Russia did in
2007-08, when it shipped its export surplus before imposing an export tax."
The comments come amid considerable speculation over trade
curbs, ahead of a meeting on Wednesday of a Russian government food security
US broker RJ O'Brien on Tuesday reported "talk in the market
that Moscow will impose a 20-30% wheat export tariff".
However, separately, SovEcon, the Moscow-based analysis
group, downplayed the threat of restrictions, flagging the "limited" scope the
government has for cutting exports, given WTO membership.
"An export ban… now looks politically unacceptable,"
SovEcon said, highlighting the role of differentials between domestic and foreign
prices in determining exports, which it forecast a 8.5m tonnes – 2.0m tonnes above
the Goldman forecast.
Chicago vs Paris
Goldman's comment came as it revised estimates for a swathe
of wheat crop forecasts, leaving its global estimate 13.2m tonnes below that of
the US Department of Agriculture - whose estimates, which are up for revision
on Friday, set world benchmarks.
The weakened production prospects had raised upward pressure
on wheat prices, although this would be felt more in Paris than in Chicago
Thanks to geographic proximity, and a discount to Chicago
prices, export demand displaced from the former Soviet Union would "initially
be directed to European Union wheat supplies".
Indeed, the bank's models suggested that "these stronger EU
exports will push European wheat prices back to trading at a premium to Chicago
wheat prices in coming months".
Goldman recommended a trade of hedging a long bet on Paris
wheat, for March, against a short on Chicago's March contract, to exploit a
price gap set to turn from a negative $17.50 per tonne to a positive $25 per