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Anglo-Eastern joins throng seeing end to palm rout

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Anglo-Eastern Plantations joined the throng of commentators talking up the prospect of an end to the rout in palm oil prices – even as one leading analyst took a more sceptical view.

The plantations group in Indonesia and Malaysia, the top palm oil producing countries, acknowledged that "challenging times are ahead", both for the company and the industry, thanks to the weak prices.

Kuala Lumpur futures on Wednesday closed down 1.8% at 1,976 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur, the weakest close since March 2009.

"Of late the crude palm oil price has weakened," said Lim Siew Kim, the group's chairman, citing in the main the prospect of a record US harvest of soybeans - the source of soyoil, palm oil's main rival – although also citing reduced orders from China and India.

"Demand remains soft as top buyers in India and China purchase a greater proportion of [soyoil] as the price differential between the two edible oils continues to narrow."

Price headwinds

Orders from Chinese buyers also seems to be being undermined by a squeeze on commodity financing, Ms Lim said, noting reports that "many buyers of refined palm oil in China struggled for funding as the country crackdown on commodity financing in the face of slowing domestic demand.

"This may lead to lower crude palm oil price imports as a result of tighter access to credit."

Furthermore, ample supplies of sunflower oil are also weighing on palm oil prices, as is the disappointing demand from biodiesel groups, which have been encouraged through mandates in the likes of Indonesia and Malaysia to consume more of the vegetable oil.

"Poor infrastructure for oil distribution and biodiesel blending in some developing countries" has led to disappointment against "earlier widely-held expectations for biodiesel to absorb surplus crude palm oil".

Production fall ahead

However, despite this salvo of pressures on palm oil prices, Ms Kim - citing the potential for production setbacks - flagged hopes that prices may at least stabilise after their fall, in Kuala Lumpur, of nearly one-third from their March high.

"The industry believe the crude palm oil price is expected to be resilient due to concerns on weaker [oil palm fruit] production in Malaysia and parts of Indonesia in the fourth quarter of 2014 due to a prolonged dry spell in the first three months of the year," Ms Lim said.

"Parts of some growing areas in Malaysia and Indonesia received less than 50mm of rain in January and February, the driest period since 1997."

An El Nino weather pattern, linked to dryness in South East Asia, is also expected by many meteorologists to kick-in this year, and if it "materialises, could induce droughts which would curb production and yield".

Bearish voice

The comments represent the latest in a series from commentators ranging from Oil World to Morgan Stanley to Sipef forecasting the palm oil prices, even if they face limited upside, looks unlikely to fall further.

Liberum, the London broker, has also forecast that "prices are close to a trough given demand, especially from the biodiesel sector, is likely to be boosted by the low prices.

"But upside will be limited unless [US] soybean harvest forecasts are reined back."

However, one leading analyst, Dorab Mistry at Godrej International, has unveiled a more downbeat assessment, signalling that the price retreat could have a further 20% to go.

"We know from experience that during bear markets, the price tends to gravitate toward the cost of production," Mr Mistry said, estimating Malaysian and Indonesian output costs at 1,500-1,600 ringgit a tonne.

Profits rise

Ms Lim made her forecasts as Anglo-Eastern Plantations unveiled a near-tripling in underlying pre-tax profits, to $43.2m, for the first half of 2014, on revenues up 56% at $130.0m.

Results were boosted both by higher production and a high palm oil selling price in the first half of 2014 than a year before.

Anglo-Eastern Plantations shares, which are listed in London, stood 0.2% higher at 645.5p in afternoon deals.


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