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Was Starbucks too quick to exploit coffee price retreat?

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Was Starbucks too quick to exploit the retreat in coffee prices from October highs?

The coffee shop giant revealed that it had slowed its coffee purchases over the past three months - even as prices have continued to fall, buying a bit over 10% of its needs for its 2016 financial year.

The decline reflected the extent of the purchases it has already made, with the vast majority of the group's coffee needs met for a financial year which still has some .

"We are now over 80% locked for coffee costs into 2016," Scott Maw, the company's chief financial officer told investors.

That compares with a statement in April that the group was "close to 70% priced" for the next financial year.

And it is well ahead of the 60% of bean needs for Starbucks' current financial year that the group had fixed as of a year ago.

Prices continue to fall

An accelerated rate of forward pricing has, this time at least, not proved so lucrative, with New York arabica coffee futures continuing to trend lower through 2015, and indeed on Friday matching a 17-month low for a spot contract of 121.10 cents a pound.

That represents a decline of 14% over the past three months, besides a drop of more than 30% year on year, providing extra rewards for patient buyers.

Starbucks, by comparison, said that its coffee costs for its 2016 financial year had been locked in "at rates slightly lower than 2015", although that is also a reflection of the slowdown in the group's forward purchases for the current year, which allowed it to reduce exposure to peak prices.

Currency factor

Arabica prices have continued to fall largely thanks to a continued decline in the Brazilian real.

Weakness in the currency cuts the value, in dollar terms, of assets such as coffee in which Brazil is a major force.

However, the decline is also in part thanks to reduced concerns over long-term damage to crops from last year's drought in Brazil's coffee belt, with rains late last year seen as ameliorating tree stress, besides allowing fertilizers to be absorbed.

'Harvest running late'

That said, one impact of the drought, in causing irregular flowering, is continuing to be felt, in terms of providing headaches for farmers in when to time their harvests.

"The out-of-step blossoming last year resulted in cherries with different levels of maturity," said research institute Cepea, adding that this variation "has led some producers to wait for better coffee development to begin the harvest".

The harvest is "running late in most places" monitored, Cepea said.

Indeed, as of July 7, only 35% of Brazil's Arabica crop had been harvested, compared with 55% a year before, according to Safras & Mercado.

'Good quality'

Commerzbank noted also that "it is said that the beans are smaller than usual – as they were last year.

However, the beans are believed to be "of good quality", the bank added.

"This is good news given that heavy rainfall in May and June had given rise to concerns about lower quality and had resulted in delays to harvesting."

Arabica coffee for September stood 0.05 cents lower at 121.50 cents a pound in early deals on Friday.


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