The pace of Russia's grain exports, while slowed by rising quotes from merchants, may still be sufficient to provoke government curbs on shipments for a second season, a leading analyst has warned.
Russia's grain shipments are expected at 1.5m-2m tonnes this month - down from monthly levels of well over 3m tonnes during the summer in an early after flush after the country lifted an export ban imposed during a drought-devastated 2010 harvest.
The pace is being slowed by, besides the logistical challenges that cold winters present Russian merchants, higher prices as traders, having exhausted grain supplies near to ports, are forced for stock to search further afield to areas from which transport is longer and more costly.
Market hopes that a shortage of grain wagons would ease after the start of 2012 "have so far proven to be unwarranted", Sovecon, the influential crop analysis group, said.
The price of benchmark fourth-grade milling wheat rose $10 to $250 a tonne last week, according to the Moscow-based group.
'Reach the threshold'
However, even at their slower pace, exports are set for a record, and could soon test government pledges to introduce export curbs at levels of 23m-25m tonnes for 2011-12.
As of the end of this month, shipments for the season, which started in July, look set to come in at about 20m tonnes.
"If we have exports at the same pace in February and March, you are going to get pretty close to 25m tonnes," Andrey Sizov, the Sovecon managing director, told Agrimoney.com.
"We are going to reach that threshold pretty soon."
And as an extra sign that curbs could be about to return, wheat prices had risen near the level which could trigger sales from state reserves, which total about 7m tonnes."Previously, Russian grain sales from state stocks have been accompanied by export restrictions."
Bans and duties
While Russia in 2010-11, after its drought, imposed an outright ban on exports, it has previously also used less extreme measures, such as duties to limit trade, and so support domestic supplies.
In 2007-08, the country initially introduced an export duty of some 10%, which was later increased to 30%.
Fresh curbs would be likely to have a significant impact on international grain markets, given Russia's importance in trade, and its reputation, notwithstanding recent prices rises, as a competitive exporter.
Indeed, the export ban introduced in 2010 is seen as the primary cause of the July 2010 jump in grain prices, which remain at historically elevated levels.
One reason for the government to be more tolerant of higher shipments was raised estimates for Russia's 2011 grains harvest, now pegged at about 94m tonnes rather than the 91m tonnes when the export threats were first made, Mr Sizov said.