Sober near-term trade outlook for corn exports
Forget this year for corn exports. It’s an outlier year with only 700 million bushels of anticipated demand. Exports had to crash; U.S. corn literally was not there to sell.
The 2013 crop is a different matter. Production is set to rebound, but without an export surge, carryover skyrockets. The corn price outlook is sobering.
Don’t look for a quick resurgence to previous levels, experts say. USDA forecasts exports at 1.25 billion bushels for the 2013-14 marketing year.
Global demand is growing, but record prices stimulated not only U.S. producers to shift more acres to corn, but competitors, too.
"The global impact of short U.S. production and high prices has been similar to the 1980 grain embargo against the then Soviet Union," says Dan O’Brien, Kansas State University ag economist. "From 2002-12 global corn acreage increased at a much faster rate than U.S. acreage. Even so, U.S. production only slightly lagged world output because of higher U.S. yields than those globally."
From 2008-12, corn production increased 51% in Brazil, 24% in China and 84% in Ukraine. Brazil’s corn exports are up 276%, from 2008-12. That makes Brazil the No. 1 corn exporter in 2013, and China the world’s No. 2 corn producer.
While U.S. exports are down, the U.S. is forecast to regain its crown as the No. 1 corn exporter for 2013-14, even though exports next year will be down 31% from 2008-09.
Part of that is because ethanol production ramped up in 2007, but a big part of the shift is that there are new kids on the export block.
With a reduction in the ethanol blend wall and reduced livestock numbers, the timing couldn’t be worse, O’Brien says.
Export Bull. Chad Hart, Iowa State University ag economist, is bullish on U.S. exports, but admits getting customers back could take years. "I predict 1.6 billion in exports for the 2014 crop," he says. For 2015 through 2018, he looks for a range of 1.8 billion to 2.3 billion bushels.
Demand for the next two years likely means negative margins on average, he says, but balance sheets will be back in the black by 2015-16.
In the meantime, stocks will increase. USDA’s July 11 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates projects world corn stocks for 2013-14 to be 151 million metric tons, an increase of 20.5 million tons from 2012-13, which is the most in 12 years.
Others Are Optimistic. "We’ve gone from 46% global stock to use in 1986-87 to USDA’s projection of 14.4% to 16% for next year," says Frayne Olson, North Dakota State University ag economist. "That’s the lowest level in 30 years."
As a result, he sees several years of $4.50 to $5.50 prices, but with short periods of production problems in places, such as Ukraine, prices could shoot back to $7 to $7.50, then down.
With low global stocks to use, he says volatility is here to stay, but he is optimistic about global demand. "China could emerge as a significant corn importer, along with Korea, Indonesia and Vietnam," he says. Hart agrees: U.S. exports and corn prices will march higher.
"There’s room for both the U.S. and our competitors, given what I see on the demand front," Hart says.
A new report from Rabobank does not paint such a confident view. During the next three years, if the growth rate of global corn exports reverts to the long-term trend of 4 million tons per year, about 1.7 billion bushels would be sourced from the U.S., according to the report.
"Unless there is a contraction in global production capacity, we expect U.S. exports to struggle to regain 2009 levels of 1.9 billion bushels during the next three years." As a result, Rabobank sees corn prices of sub-$5 per bushel this fall and $5 per bushel for the next three years.