Falling corn prices attract Chinese buying

by Laura Lloyd
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KANSAS CITY — China has been on a buying binge of U.S. corn in the last 10 days after recent declines in U.S. corn futures prices to modestly above $5 a bu made it a “bargain” compared with corn grown domestically in China, said Mike O’Dea, a risk management consultant at INTLFC Stone.

Assuming, as the market does, that corn sold to “unknown destinations” actually means corn sold to China, the second largest economy has been buying U.S. corn for delivery in 2013-14, which begins Sept. 1, 2013, at a rapid clip since July 5. The U.S. Department of Agriculture on its 24-hour reporting service indicated four sales of 120,000 tonnes of corn each, culminating in the notification of another 120,000 tonnes sold to unknown destinations on July 15.

On July 12, the U.S.D.A. reported a historically large sale of 960,000 tonnes of corn to China (not unknown destination) for 2013-14 delivery.

December corn futures on the CME Group dipped to a nearly 2½-year low of $4.91¼ on July 5 and were trading just a few cents above $5 a bu early this week after jumping to $5.27 a bu on July 11. Prices were down from recent highs around $5.70 a bu in mid-June.

Though most market observers expect U.S. corn futures prices to grind lower through the summer until harvest on expectations of a record large 2013 crop, Mr. O’Dea said China was not compelled to wait and try to predict a market bottom, mostly because the price of imports was already quite low compared to the price of its own corn.

Mr. O’Dea said corn grown in China trades in the range of $9 to $10 a bu and is used in pork production demanded by a population eager to increase consumption of meat as personal incomes grow.

Statistics support a scenario of continuing high levels of U.S. corn exports to China, which Mr. O’Dea said occur when the price is favorable. China also imports corn from other countries, such as Brazil, Argentina and Ukraine, “whoever’s got it cheap,” Mr. O’Dea said.

The amount of corn that China imports each year gyrates in relation to its domestic crop size but is supported by the continued “expansion of protein” in the Chinese diet, Mr. O’Dea said.

The July World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates from the U.S.D.A. projected China will import 7 million tonnes of corn in 2013-14, more than double the 3 million tonnes estimated for 2012-13 and up 34% from 5.23 million tonnes in 2011-12. At the same time, the U.S.D.A. reduced its projection of China’s 2013-14 corn production by 1 million tonnes, to 211 million tonnes, which still was well above 205.6 million tonnes forecast for 2012-13 and 192.78 million tonnes in 2011-12.
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