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What does 2017 hold for sugar futures?

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Sugar futures have been one of the strong performers in 2016, but momentum has cooled in recent months.

Have markets factored in the tight stocks, and the expected global sugar production deficit?

Or is attention now ready to turn to the expected large production in 2018, thanks to the fading of delayed El Nino effect and better prices, stopping the rally in its track?

Commentators give their views for the year to come.

Commerzbank

The Brazilian sugar cane harvest will be a major factor, and so far forecasts are contradictory.

Array

Q1 2017: 21.0 cents a pound

Q2 2017: 20.2 cents a pound

Q3 2017: 19.8 cents a pound

Q4 2017: 19.4 cents a pound

Forecasts for New York spot contract

According to Datagro, for example, Center-South sugar production in 2017-18 should rise to 36.1 to 36.5m tonnes, from an estimated 34.1m this coming season.

Some 600m tonnes of sugar cane are expected to be processed, much in line with the last season.

However, the Brazilian sugar industry association Unica considers a decline in the sugar cane harvest for more likely, even in good weather conditions, because producers have invested too little in recent years in maintaining and upgrading their plantations.

[The] sugar market can be expected to remain sufficiently strained to justify prices close to 20 cents a pound.

We envisage a raw sugar price of 19 cents a pound in the last three months of 2017.

Societe Generale

We maintain our neutral view on sugar for the near term despite the recent fall in prices.

The commodity has lost some of its shine amid renewed weakness in the Brazilian real and the failure of La Nina to develop further.

We reiterate that, in the absence of fresh supportive fundamental/weather news, sugar prices should continue to move in relation to the competitiveness of swing producer Brazil.

We keep our sugar price forecasts unchanged.

Barring any adverse weather, we believe the sugar market will post a surplus of 3.5m tonnes in 2017-18, vs a deficit of 2.6mt in 2016-17.

However, global stock-to-use should fall from 19.6% in 2016-17 to 18.9% in 2017-18, similar to the level in 2010-11, when sugar prices touched 35.31 cents a pound.

Marex Spectron

Now everybody is trying to judge the 'right time' to buy.

But at the same time, everybody remembers during the bear market of the past five years, how wrong it was to go against the trend.

For what it's worth, we think that the key to the market's turning is going to be the ethanol parity in Centre South Brazil for the period of the next crop (say April onwards).

But the outlook for ethanol in Brazil is bullish (though its price is still tied to that of gasoline, which is sort of fixed). However, as a friend told us, 'if Centre South Brazil sneezes, we all catch cold'.

So, if ever the world market for 2017 gets down to anywhere near what might be the ethanol parity, that would mean that the main plank of the bearish argument - a maximum swing to sugar production in CS Brazil next year – would be knocked away.

ISO

In a nutshell, assuming normal weather conditions in the coming 21 months, fairly balanced global production and consumption come into view, heralding a possible end of the deficit phase in the world sugar cycle in the next season.

In August, the ISO suggested that the 2016-17 fundamental situation provided a clear indicator to the world sugar market.

Values seemed to be poised for continuing strengthening.

The second season of significant statistical deficit with an anticipated massive 11.1m tonne drop in global inventories (over the two seasons) augurs well for strong world market values.

Any easing of price in reaction to expectations of a possible return of the world supply and demand to a more balanced scenario in 2017-18 may be muted due to a critically low level of stocks forecast by the beginning of the next October/September cycle.

Focus Economics

The impressive rally in sugar prices since the start of the year seemed to reach its ceiling at 23.30 cents per pound in late September and has declined slowly but steadily since then.

Sugar traded at USD 21.0 cents per pound on 4 November. The price was down 6.5% from the same day last month, it was 40.4% higher on a year-to-date basis.

The price was up 46.3% from the same day last year.

This year's sugar price rally reflected slowing production in key producers, which is expected to cause a deficit in the sugar market.

The recent drop, however, revealed that market analysts are now focusing on a possible surplus in 2018, which has driven some speculators to exit the market.

Analysts expect prices to average 19.6 cents per pound in the last three months of 2017.

Cepea

Prices in the Brazilian market for sugar should remain high at 2017, supported mainly by estimates of the new global sugar deficit.

Despite the slight rebound projected in global 2016-17 production, up from 3% over the previous season at 171m tonnes, the volume should not be enough to meet demand, which is estimated at 174m tonnes, according to USDA figures.

As a result, the deficit could reach 2.6m tonnes of sugar.

According to the International Sugar Organization, this deficit could be even larger, reaching 6.2m tonnes.

By William Clarke

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