New challenges emerge in 2013-14 flour market

by Josh Sosland
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It sounds almost like a broken record. Wheat prices appear poised for a correction from historically high prices. A weather shock emerges in a major exporting nation. Prices rally abruptly, and another year of high prices is assured. It’s happened again and again in recent years.

The 2013-14 version of what has been a recurrent nightmare for flour-based foods companies has been playing out in recent weeks. Weather problems have been identified in several major growing areas, beginning in Argentina, where the harvest is expected to be significantly smaller than earlier forecasts. Meanwhile, in the former Soviet Union, conditions have been unfavorable for planting, diminishing prospects for the 2014 crop. Heavy rains in Brazil appear to have lowered the quality of the maturing wheat crop there. Against this backdrop, U.S. wheat exports have been stronger than expected, and late summer wheat feeding similarly was heavy.

Even before these various bullish factors emerged in wheat markets, U.S. ending stocks were projected to be smaller in 2014 than in the previous two years. Current forecasts of some analysts place the ending stocks-to-use ratio in 2014 at the second smallest level since the late 1990s. While wheat futures prices lost ground last week, trends have been firm recently – stronger than the corn market. The strength in wheat against the backdrop of soft corn futures creates particular challenges for flour buyers who will need skill to navigate markets in coming months.
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