StanChart calls time on wheat rout as Algeria buys

Standard Chartered called time on the slide in wheat prices, saying that "pipeline demand is improving", even as Algeria and Iraq bought some 850,000 tonnes between them, and amid talk of renewed Chinese interest too.

StanChart cut by $1 a bushel its forecast for wheat prices this year, noting the 14% drop in Chicago futures since the end of November, a slide it attributed to a strengthening dollar, making the grain more expensive to buyers in other currencies, besides some substitution with cheaper corn.

"Feed demand for wheat faces stiff competition from corn, as well as barley, on account of a large harvest," StanChart analyst Abah Ofon said.

However, there remained enough buyers to believe that Chicago wheat futures might average $5.75 a bushel in the current quarter, above the level the March contract was trading at on Wednesday, before staging a recovery to end 2014 at about $6.00 a bushel.

India factor

"We believe end users will view the current season's abundance of wheat as an opportunity to stock up, thereby limiting price declines," Mr Ofon said.

Standard Chartered wheat price forecast and (change on previous)

Q1 2014: $5.75 a bushel, (-$1 a bushel)

Q2 2014: $5.80 a bushel, (-$1 a bushel)

Q3 2014: $6.00 a bushel, (-$1 a bushel)

Q4 2014: $6.00 a bushel, (-$1 a bushel)

2014 average: $5.89 a bushel, (-$1  bushel)

He flagged in particular dynamics in India where, while many investors have focused on expectations of a record harvest this year, StanChart noted expectations of a rise to 90m tonnes in demand, from an average of 82m tonnes over the previous three seasons.

"This increase reflects greater government participation in order to ease supply-chain bottlenecks in its public distribution system and as an attempt to keep inflation in check," Mr Ofon said.

"This will have implications for the global wheat market."

Rising consumption, "coupled with pressures on yield, acreage and inventories suggest that India's exportable surpluses could be pressured, supporting global prices in 2014".

Exporters vs importers

Furthermore, the level of stocks in major exporting countries, such as Australia, Russia and the US, remains relatively low, compared with demand.

"For major exporters, this year's stocks-to-use ratio is markedly lower than the three-year average, which will be price supportive," Mr Ofon said.

Indeed, such a picture contrasts with the level of demand from importers.

"Although global consumption should increase by more than 5m tonnes [in 2013-14], this is dwarfed by a likely 20m-tonne increase in export volumes, suggesting strong trade momentum."

While wheat prices "will remain under pressure" in 2014, they should "find a floor" in the current quarter, Mr Ofon said.

Algerian, Iraqi purchases

The comments came as traders reported that Algeria's state grains agency, OAIC, had bought 500,000 tonnes of wheat, and potentially more, at $285-288 a tonne including cost and freight.

Ideas of a larger order have been supported by talk that the delivery period spanned both April and May, rather than just the May period initially expected.

The purchase, probably of French grain, comes as other buyers are also seeking to purchase with the market, as measured by Chicago futures prices, at its weakest level since summer 2010.

Separately, Iraq bought 200,000 tonnes of hard wheat from Australia, 100,000 tonnes from Canada and 50,000 tonnes from the US, for prices believed to be between $334.78-349 a tonne, on a cost and freight free out (ciffo) basis.

Egypt, the world's top importer, has bought nearly 900,000 tonnes of wheat this month at tender, while China is also rumoured to be investigating purchases.

Brian Henry at Benson Quinn Commodities noted "talk that China is interested in securing another 200,000 tonnes of wheat with ideas that they will look to the US and/or Australia to find supply."

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