Weaker currencies sap Asian food purchases

Crop prices have risen two percent since October in U.S. dollar terms but 10 percent when valued in the Indonesian rupiah

SINGAPORE (Reuters) — Steep declines in many Asian currencies against the U.S. dollar mean food importers are unable to reap the benefits of plunging grain and oilseed prices.

Weaker local currencies are slowing demand for wheat, corn and soybeans as price-sensitive Asian buyers make only hand-to-mouth purchases, taking fewer cargoes even as global production hits record highs.

Japan, the world’s top corn importer, has seen the yen drop 14 percent against the U.S. dollar since September, while the rupiah in Indonesia, Asia’s biggest wheat buyer, has lost 11 percent.

“Overall, there is a feeling of bearishness (on market prices), but when importers look at prices in their domestic currencies, it is not the same as they are still paying more,” said a grains trader.

“The buyer is not covering longer term and this is really bearish for prices as exporters will end up with large unsold stockpiles.”

Brazil and Argentina are forecast to produce a record soybean crop, adding to all-time high U.S. production last year.

World corn output is estimated at a historic high of 991.3 million tonnes in 2014-15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has said.

Chicago wheat futures have gained just two percent in dollar terms since lows marked in October, while in rupiah value the market is up 10 percent.

Corn has risen 30 percent in yen terms during that period, although the market is up 19 percent in dollar value. Despite these gains, corn prices are less than half their 2013 high of US$8 a bushel.

U.S. dollar strength is also causing a shift in trade flows across Asia.

“Dollar strength has allowed other origins to be more competitive than the United States,” said Brett Cooper, senior manager of markets at FCStone Australia.

Bangladesh has made its biggest wheat purchases from France since 2000-01, while traders said rare shipments to the region from Poland and Bulgaria have made their way to Southeast Asia.

“Even Thailand and the Philippines, which are dedicated importers of U.S. wheat, have reduced purchases and are looking at other origins,” said a second trader.

Japan, which imports 15 percent of corn traded worldwide, is expected to buy more South American and Black Sea product this year.

“The U.S. share is gradually decreasing in the Japanese market because the higher dollar is eroding its competitiveness,” said Nobuyuki Chino, who runs the trading firm Continental Rice Corporation in Tokyo.

“In 2014, 80 percent of corn came from the United States, but in 2015 I expect the U.S. share to drop to 70 percent.”


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