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Almond, hazelnut prices to rise - but not peanut values

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It is time to stock up on marzipan?

The nut market has divided between peanuts, of which supplies are ample and prices depressed, and tree nuts, of which the reverse is true – particularly for hazelnuts and almonds - according to Singapore-based agricultural commodities trader Olam International.

And it will need either an improvement in weather or seed varieties to change the situation.

'Under serious pressure'

For peanuts, the "the market is really oversupplied", said A Shekhar, the Olam finance director, noting a jump of 25% to 5.21bn pounds in production in the US alone last year, where output is expected to grow further this year, to 5.78bn pounds, boosted by extra sowings as farmers switch from other crops.

"It has taken cotton, corn acreage.

"If you look at the farming economics today, cotton producers are roughly losing Sing$14 ($10.60) an acre, corn producers are about breakeven, peanut unirrigated producers are making up Sing$78 per acre, and irrigated peanut producers are making about Sing$220 per acre," Mr Shekhar said.

Besides changes to the US farm support regime, the economics reflect "the launch of a fairly revolutionary variety" which has "dramatically increased productivity".

With Argentine peanut production, and Chinese sowings, also higher, "peanut prices are under serious pressure".

Peanut prices, which in the US are trading at 22.5 cents a pound, are "in a down cycle", he said.

'Lifetime-high prices'

However, for the so-called "noble" tree nuts, prices have been soaring, making cashews, at Sing$3.70 ($2.80) a pound, a relatively cheap option.

For hazelnuts, "we are seeing lifetime-high prices", Mr Shekhar said, underlining the dent to output last year in Turkey, the top producing country", from frost.

Hazelnut prices, which stood at 11-12 Turkish lira a kilogramme in late 2013, are now trading at nearly 39 Turkish lira ($15.15) a kilogramme.

"That is a phenomenally high price," but one for which "there might be some moderate upside" given that "there is really very little pipeline" of hazelnut supplies.

"The pipeline is very dry and therefore before the next crop starts, there will be very little inventory to service ongoing demand."

'Price to be higher'

And for almonds, prices are at a "historical high", thanks to the drought in California, which is responsible for 80% of world output, Mr Shekhar said.

(US farmgate prices of almonds for 2014-15 are estimated at $3.50 per pound, "the highest recorded as far back as 1970", according to the US Department of Agriculture.)

Mr Shekhar said: "US production [for 2014-15] is estimated to be about 1.85bn pounds compared to a little over almost 2.1bn pounds the prior year.

"Given the drought situation in California, prospects for a better crop next season is also quite low.

"So I think we will see structurally the market price to be higher."

'Very finicky'

Indeed, one of the problems for the almond market is that there appear few areas outside California able to grow almonds, which Mr Shekhar termed a "very finicky" crop.

"It cannot be grown if temperatures dip below zero degrees Celsius," or crops "will have issue with the bloom.

"At the same time, it needs contrasting temperatures between daytime temperatures and night-time temperatures."

Almond production also "needs certain kind of wind speed" – ie not too strong to deter the bees needed for pollination.

'Exceptional returns'

"The only places you can produce it is, the US, Spain, Australia and a little bit in Italy," he said, although adding that there are a "lot of factors that results in California remaining, even if there was a drought, the most important producer of almonds going forward".

Meanwhile, almond consumption is growing at 8-10% a year.

The result for Olam has been "exceptional margins and returns".

And it looks difficult to see that changing, unless El Nino brings rain to California, or the researchers who came up with the "revolutionary" peanut seed make headway with noble nut varieties as well.


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