U.S. soybean exports falter in October while Brazil’s shine

The market is closely watching U.S. soybean exports to see whether the 2017-18 campaign will stumble amid record global supply, and October’s data raises a red flag.

U.S. corn and wheat demand is also staring down a global supply glut and stiff international competition, and October export volumes were some of the smallest in recent decades.

The United States shipped 9.44 million tonnes (347 million bushels) of soybeans during October, according to data published Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau. This is down 16 per cent from the year-ago record and six per cent below October 2015’s mark.

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In the first two months of the 2017-18 marketing year that began on Sept. 1, soybean exports totalled 14.1 million tonnes (517 million bushels), which is six per cent smaller than in the same period last year.

However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expects the United States to ship three per cent more soybeans this year than last year. Some analysts doubt whether this is possible given the less than impressive results.

USDA will have a chance to update its 2.25-billion-bushel export target in its monthly supply-and-demand report on Dec. 12.

USDA’s weekly port inspections implied that September bean shipments were 12 per cent larger than in 2016. But by the end of October, year-to-date inspections were down nine per cent on the year.

This gap has widened even further through the end of November, and soybean inspections in the first quarter were 12.5 per cent smaller than in the same period a year ago.

Soybean bookings have been behind the year-ago pace from the start, though the margin has opened up in the latest weeks. Through Nov. 23, year-to-date sales lagged last year by 17.5 per cent – slightly larger than the 15 per cent gap that prevailed in October.

While the United States struggles to keep up with expectations, its rival Brazil has been setting soybean export records.

Brazil leads global soybean trade, but its export activity is usually very low during the peak U.S. shipping season – September through February – since its bean crop is still in the ground.

The South American country might be stealing a sliver of U.S. business, though. Brazil exported 8.9 million tonnes (327 million bushels) of soybeans from September through November, some 15 per cent larger than 2015’s record and triple the decade-ago levels.

In October, Brazil accounted for one-fifth of the combined U.S. and Brazilian exports, though this share has recently averaged around 14 per cent.

Brazil has set new all-time highs for soybean shipments during seven of the first 11 months of 2017.

Another number to watch is USDA’s forecast for U.S. corn exports, which the agency somewhat inexplicably raised to 1.925 billion bushels last month from 1.85 billion.

A bumper wheat harvest and cheap prices in top exporter Russia have dampened the outlook for other wheat suppliers, and the effect is palpable in the United States.

U.S. wheat exports totalled 1.38 million tonnes in October. Aside from the 1.22 million in October 2015, this year’s volume is the lowest for that month since the early 1970s.

The United States exported 1.72 million tonnes of wheat in October 2016.

About the author

Columnist/Reuters

Karen Braun is a Reuters market analyst based in Chicago. The views in this column are her own.

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