Ukraine injecting new element in wheat price

by Josh Sosland
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For followers of world energy markets, the idea that geopolitical considerations factor into commodity prices is hardly anything new. Issues ranging from general tensions between the West and Iran, unrest in Iraq and the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya have added an unspecified but often significant premium to world oil prices at times in recent years, reflecting fears (overwhelmingly unfounded) that shipments could be disrupted.

Such concerns have not usually been cited as factors in wheat markets in many years. That has now changed. When futures rose $2 a bu in March, market analysts debated the degree to which the rally reflected concern about the deteriorating condition of the U.S. winter wheat crop versus risks associated with the crisis unfolding between Russia and the Ukraine.

Ukraine is the sixth-largest exporter of wheat globally but is forecast to account for only 9.5 million tonnes of 161 million tonnes projected to be shipped this year. Russia’s wheat exports were forecast to be nearly twice as great. Memories of the trade embargo during the Carter administration (interrupting trade flows moving in the opposite direction) in response to the U.S.S.R. 1979 invasion of Afghanistan may add to market jitters today. Whether the “Ukraine premium” is just 10c a bu or exceeds $1, it is clear that continuing tensions in the region require careful monitoring by flour buyers as they craft purchasing strategies for the approaching new crop year.
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