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Tereos underlines industry scramble to exploit EU sugar shake-up

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Tereos underlined the clamour by European Union sugar producers to exploit the lifting of output quotas as it forecast a jump of 25% in its French beet volumes, a rise seen as boosting prospects for profits despite weaker sugar prices.

The French-based co-operative, the world's third-largest sugar producer, said that its domestic processing volumes in 2017-18 will hit 19m tonnes, a rise of one-quarter year on year, amid an industry-wide scramble to raise output following the EU's scrapping in October of production limits.

An output rise at that rate would be ahead of the pace of sugar beet sowings expected for France, the EU's top grower, as a whole.

France's farm ministry has forecast seedings up 17% year on year at 472,000 hectares, while US Department of Agriculture staff in Europe have put the figure at 460,000 hectares.

Last year, French growers seeded 403,000 hectares of sugar beet, on ministry data, producing a crop pegged by industry at 34m tonnes.

'Usefulness and strength'

Tereos flagged the boost to its sugar beet prospects from the agreement with producers of "clear, fair and long-term contractual arrangements", saying it was the first group guarantee its co-operative members a guaranteed price for the crop post the October shake-up.

"On the eve of the deregulation of the European market Tereos' co-operative model is proving its usefulness and strength," said Thierry Lecomte, the group's chairman.

France was also always expected to see a particular rise in beet seedings thanks to the efficiency of its growers, who typically achieve yields comfortably above 80 tonnes per hectare, ahead of figures of 70 tonnes per hectare more common in the Nordic countries and the UK, and 40 tonnes per hectare or so in Romania.

Weather damage?

Tereos rival Cristal Union, also based in France, has forecast a 25% rise in beet sowings by its growers this year, with a harvest initially pegged at 17m tonnes, although the co-operative cautioned earlier this week that the country's dry weather may curtail sugar content to 13 tonnes per hectare.

The group, the European Union's fourth largest sugar producer, had already cut the estimate to 13 tonnes per hectare, from an initial forecast of 15.5 tonnes per hectare.

Last week, commodities house Sucden said the EU beet sowings overall have "increased by 15% - even more in France and Germany, the two main producers - as the sector gets prepared for the liberalisation of the market".

Sucden pegged total EU sugar output in 2017-18 at 18.3m tonnes, a rise of 15.8% year on year.

The USDA has forecast EU sugar production at 18.6m tonnes, supporting a rise in exports - which have also been deregulated as part of the EU reforms - of more than 50%, to 2.2m tonnes.

Profits to rise

Tereos added that it had prepared for the jump in sugar beet volumes, by raising storage facilities at its plants, both for beet and for the processing products.

"Investments have been made in the plants to increase the syrup storage capacity, and develop the crystallization capacity with a view to improving the sugar-ethanol mix," the group said.

The boost to beet volumes and capacity will allow the group to raise underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) to E615m-645m in its current financial year, which started in April, despite the recent retreat in sugar values.

"This outlook is due to the expected increase in activity level, including in Europe, to the contribution of the investments made over the past few years, and to the positive results of the competitiveness initiatives implemented," Tereos said.

Sugar price sweetener

The co-operative reported underlying ebitda of E607m for the year to the end of March 2017, a 38% rise year on year, on revenues up 14.7% at E4.82bn.

The group flagged the boost to its fortunes from higher sugar prices during the financial year.

"After experiencing a steep decline in its profitability due to permanently low sugar and ethanol prices in Europe, the French and European sugar business reported a strong increase in its ebitda," Tereos said.

After-tax earnings came in at E107m, compared with a E40 loss a year before.

By Mike Verdin

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