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January 2012 Archive for AgDairy Market Update

RSS By: Robin Schmahl, Dairy Today

Robin Schmahl is a commodity broker and owner of AgDairy LLC, a full-service commodity brokerage firm located in Elkhart Lake, Wis. He provides dairy market insight.

Dairy Market’s Psychology Turns Bearish

Jan 23, 2012

Lackluster supply and demand are restraining the market, although dry whey adds significantly to milk price levels.

 
A lot can change in two weeks. My previous article indicated Class III prices in nearby contracts were reaching for $18.00, with traders exhibiting a bullish attitude. Cheese prices appeared to have bottomed, adding some fuel to the fire. However, that changed rather abruptly since my last article.
 
The change seemed to correspond with the release of the January “World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates” (WASDE) report. Now, I don’t think that was the main reason, and maybe it had little influence on the change in attitude, but there was a definite change in the market at that time. Underlying cheese and butter prices began weakening, taking milk futures down with them. Price premium that had been put into futures quickly began eroding and magnified the decline relative to the underlying cash prices.
 
Over the past two weeks, cheese prices have declined to a level not seen since January 2011, and the butter price fell to the lowest since December 2010. This caused milk futures to fall from nearly $18.00 in nearby months to the current level of roughly $16.50.
 
So, a correlation can be made that bearish impact on grain prices resulting from the WASDE report could have changed the outlook of dairy traders. After all, there is a correlation between feed prices and milk prices. In 2011, milk prices and grain prices trended fairly close with each other as they have many times in the past.
 
However, I don’t think cheese and butter buyers have this in their mind at the present time. Supply and demand is driving the market. Weakness has caused buyers to be less aggressive as product continues to be offered at lower prices. Buying is being done to replenish depleted inventories, but is being done without panic.
 
USDA released its December “Cold Storage” report last week which indicated inventories are increasing seasonally. American cheese stocks increased 16.7 million pounds to 600.7 million pounds. This remains 30.0 million pounds below a year ago. Swiss cheese stocks declined 2.5 million pounds to 27.6 million, with other cheese stocks at 353.0 million pounds, down 2.0 million pounds for a year earlier. This put total cheese stocks at 981.3 million pounds, up 12.3 million lbs. from November, but down 66.7 million pounds from a year earlier. Butter stocks increased 11.7 million pounds to 105.2 million pounds, which is 23.5 million pounds higher than a year earlier. Stocks should continue to increase throughout the first half of the year.
 
We must remember that increasing stocks do not necessarily mean lower prices. That will always be dictated by supply and demand. We have experienced some very high prices even when inventory was increasing. Last year, Class III milk price increased from $13.48 in January to $19.40, but we experienced declining inventory during February and March, which helped support prices. Exports did and will continue to play an important role in milk prices. Cheese inventory will be watched closely.
 
Another factor playing a large role in higher milk prices has been the steadily increasing dry whey price. One year ago, whey price was 39.53 cents per pound, while the current weekly NASS price is 70.20 cents per pound. This in itself adds $1.8402 to the milk price. Whey has been the real strength to milk price. There is some concern that price moving over 70 cents may impact demand as it did in 2007. Manufacturers began using alternative products resulting in price decline. Dry whey futures are anticipating a decline with contracts indicating a declining price to 48 cents by the end of the year.
 
My current recommendation is to implement fence strategies by purchasing the $17.00 put and selling the $19.00 call for 25% of your milk production through the third quarter of this year. First half of the year contracts should already have some coverage of a similar strategy and price level.
 
Upcoming reports:
 
-          Bi-annul cattle inventory report on Jan. 27
-          January Agricultural Price report on Jan. 31
-          Commercial disappearance on Jan. 31
-          Dairy Products report on Feb. 1
-          California 4a/4b prices on Feb. 1
-          Fonterra auction on Feb. 1
-          January Federal Order class price on Feb. 3
 

Record Prices Did Not Improve Dairy Profitability

Jan 09, 2012

January has opened with optimism but not enough to warrant significant higher prices as the year progresses. Traders are taking a wait-and-see attitude for later contracts. The market needs to prove itself.

 
A year of record high milk prices has just been completed. Bullish attitudes have rolled over into 2012, pushing some early months near $18.00. Class III futures contracts for the first half of the year have been trending higher over the past three months. Futures contracts have moved from a discount to the underlying cash to a premium over the underlying cash over that period of time.
 
This certainly has improved the price outlook for the year. However, what is lacking is the additional premium leading into late summer contracts that we usually see. What the market is showing is a very narrow price range for the year of around 74 cents. There is optimism, but not enough to warrant significant higher prices as the year progresses. Traders are taking a wait-and-see attitude for later contracts. The market needs to prove itself.
 
Cheese and butter inventories have been declining seasonally. However, cheese stocks have depleted enough to put stocks lower than they were a year earlier. This indicates overall demand has remained good throughout the year. Cheese buyers have been a little reluctant to begin purchasing cheese for inventory building. Despite price falling the last one and a half months of 2011, buyers had anticipated further downside. But now it appears the market has established a bottom and has bounced from it over the past week.
 
Last year was not a good year for the milk/feed ratio. Despite record high milk prices, the milk/feed ratio was the second poorest in history at an average of 1.89. The worst ratio was in 2009 at 1.78. On top of this, it finishes out the year with the poorest fourth quarter ratio in history at 1.85.
 
Despite the low milk/feed ratio, milk production continues to improve over the previous year. Milk production in 2009 totaled 189.3 billion pounds, while production in 2011 is estimated to have totaled 196.1 billionpounds. 2012 is estimated to reach 198.5 billion pounds, according to the latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand report. Milk production is expected to continue to improve this year unless weather has a significant impact on cow comfort.
 
More farmers are utilizing the markets to hedge feed prices compared to 2009 and are stepping up their feed price protection this year. I had recommended forward contracting or the purchase of call options or call option spreads after the grain markets dropped in September. Current grain prices and futures are up significantly since that time and are now being fueled by the dry weather in South America. Corn and soybean forecasts for South America have been cut since the December production estimate due to dry weather that has gripped areas of the country. Rain is forecast this week and if it materializes grain prices will retrace. If it does not, futures will make another leg up as world supply will be lowered.
 
With feed prices hedged, you need to look out and protect milk prices using a fence strategy. Purchase at-the-money put options and sell $1.50-$2.00 higher call options. This will establish a floor and allow you to take advantage of some of the upside if it develops. This is the third year of a cycle that has been established and could be the year with lower prices if it were to hold true.
 
It certainly will be another challenging year and one that will not be without volatility. The goal should be to manage that volatility.
 
Upcoming reports:
 
-          California Class I on Jan. 10
-          World Agricultural Supply and Demand report on Jan. 12
-          Dairy exports statistics on Jan. 13
-          Fonterra auction on Jan. 17
-          December livestock slaughter report on Jan. 20
-          February Class I price on Jan. 20
-          December cold storage report on Jan. 20
-          December milk production report on Jan. 23
 
 
Robin Schmahl is a commodity broker and owner of AgDairy LLC, a full-service commodity brokerage firm located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He can be reached at 877-256-3253 or through their website at www.agdairy.com.
 
The thoughts expressed and the data from which they are drawn are believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed. Any opinions expressed are subject to change without notice. There is risk of loss in trading and my not be suitable for everyone. Those acting on this information are responsible for their own actions.
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