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Durum, common wheat regain knack for contrary price moves

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Prices of durum wheat and common wheat have regained their knack for moving in opposite directions – this time with the pasta-making variety the one on the defensive.

From May to September, when wheat futures tumbled some 40% in Chicago, the world's benchmark market, durum prices moved sharply in the other direction, adding 26% in France's Port La Nouvelle, according to Paris-based Agritel.

While many wheat producing nations suffered from harvest-time rains which eroded crop specifications, major durum growers, such as Canada and Italy, were particularly badly hit, putting a squeeze on quality supplies.

The International Grains Council last week downgraded its estimate for the 2014-15 world durum harvest again, this time by 1.0m tonnes to 32.3m tonnes - down 14.3% on last season, and the worst result in 13 years.

"With harvesting in the southern hemisphere still be completed, output is expected to be steady or lower in nearly ever producer, with the notable exception of Tunisia," the council said.

By contrast, production of conventional, non-durum wheat rose by 10m tonnes to 684.9m tonnes, on IGC estimates.

Durum prices retreat

Nonetheless, the price fortunes of the two grains have now started to diverge again.

Prices of durum wheat, having peaked at E440 a tonne in Port La Nouvelle two weeks ago, are now back to E410 a tonne, according to Agritel.

Chicago prices are up more than 7% over the same period, factoring in a near-2% retreat on Wednesday.

Turkey late in November bought 50,000 tonnes of durum at international tender at $514-529 a tonne, c&f, compared with the $540-582 a tonne c&f paid by Tunisia at the start of the month for 150,000 tonnes, although it is not known whether grade differences were involved in the price gap.

In Canada, the biggest durum shipper, CWB, the former grain export monopoly for most of Canada, followed a series of upgrades to price estimates for its durum pools with downgrades of up to Can$20 a tonne in its forecast.

Grade 3 Canadian western amber durum submitted to CWB's annual pool will achieve Can$391 a tonne, compared with a forecast of Can$411 a tonne made on November 6, the group said.

Top grade 13.0% protein grain will return Can$473 a tonne, down from a November 6 estimate of Can$489 a tonne.

'Adjusted to the reality'

CWB said that its price downgrades reflected in part the impact of a stronger Canadian dollar, which lowers the value in local terms of assets denominated in US dollars.

However, the group also said that "buyers have adjusted to the reality that is the lower quality durum supply this year".

Within Canada itself, cash bids at elevators "have also been on the decline".

For common wheat, meanwhile, CWB noted that "prices have strengthened… on the back of winter wheat concerns in Russia due to dryness, and a small downgrade in the condition of the US hard red winter wheat crop".

The group raised the price estimates for spring wheat submitted to its annual pool by Can$4 a tonne, lifting the estimate for top-grade grain to Can$294 a tonne.


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