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Rabobank: Chinese Supply Crisis Will Delay International Price Adjustment

September 26, 2013
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China is buying huge quantities of dairy from the international market – and squeezing out many other buyers.

Source: Rabobank

Rabobank has published a new report on the global dairy industry, looking at issues of supply, demand and price in key markets around the world.

In the report, published by Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory team, the bank says that China, faced with a local supply-side crisis, is buying huge quantities of dairy from the internationally traded market – and squeezing out many other buyers. As a result, international dairy prices remained exceptionally strong through Q3, following their peak in April.

"The easing of international dairy prices from their record peak in April lasted barely eight weeks," said Rabobank analyst Tim Hunt. "Forward pricing on the GDT Price Index suggests we are in a period of high pricing that is unprecedented in terms of level and duration."

By mid-September, FOB Oceania prices for most dairy products were up from levels at the opening of the quarter. Powders and butter were just 10% to 15% below record levels, with cheese (which saw a more modest peak) off just 3%.

Market tightness remains primarily supply-side driven. While milk production in export regions moved back into expansion in July, improving local consumption and lack of stock has kept exports below prior year levels in recent months. Declining milk production throughout most of the first half of 2013 saw international trade in dairy product volumes fall in Q2 for the first time in four years.

Tightness in an already stretched market became extreme when China, already the world’s largest importer, swooped into the market for 27% more product in Q2 than in the 12 months prior. It is becoming increasingly apparent that China is facing a supply-side crisis, with both structural and temporary factors pushing supply below prior year levels in the first half of 2013 – with credible reports of a 6% contraction. The surge in Chinese buying within a shrinking supply pool pushed many other buyers to the sidelines, sustaining extreme pricing to ensure effective rationing of product.

Strong farmgate pricing and falling feed costs are likely to generate a solid increase in milk production in export regions in Q4 and into the new year, providing some downward pressure on prices. However, with exportable supply growth likely to lag, China still on the hunt for increased volumes, and accumulated demand from sidelined buyers, price relief from the currently exceptionally high levels is expected to be delayed.

"Most likely, the prospect of any significant softening in world prices will be delayed, possibly until Q2 2014," said Hunt.

Rabobank Group is a global financial services leader providing wholesale and retail banking, leasing, real estate services, and renewable energy project financing. Founded over a century ago, Rabobank is one of the largest banks in the world, with nearly $1 trillion in assets and operations in more than 40 countries. In North America, Rabobank is a premier bank to the food, beverage and agribusiness industry. Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research and Advisory team is comprised of more than 80 analysts around the world who provide expert analysis, insight and counsel to Rabobank clients about trends, issues and developments in all sectors of agriculture. 

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