Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Can the chickpea rally continue...?

After rallying $160 since June, old crop chickpea prices have steady, with prices just  $10 off the high set in late December ($525), while new crop prices continue the rally surging to $570 (NTP Brisbane). Helped by a range of factors, continuing dry Australian conditions in key growing regions, sown area down by 47% compared to last year and strong export demand. Internationally markets have remained firm, largely helped from last week’s severe frost the hit the central Canadian Prairies. Temperatures dropped down to -8˚C throughout most of Saskatchewan. Frosts again hit the following day, but wasn’t as severe. It had been estimated that only 28% of chickpeas were harvested before the frost hit, while key growing regions had not even yet started. The rapid harvest of peas and lentils has allowed these crops to escape any significant damage.

Since a large part of Canada's exportable surplus will likely be frost damaged, it will be excluded from some markets. That adds bullish pressure to the world's medium to high quality market niches. While Canada's crop usually doesn't hold much sway in directing the global chickpea trade, global tight supplies and lower acreage have end users hoping for a decent sized crop out of North America to tide them over until the Australian and Indian crops come off.

India the world's biggest buyer of pulses will likely import less despite a slight fall in its summer-sown crop, as there are sufficient supplies from last season's bumper harvest. Pulses output has overcome almost a decade of stagnation to hit a record 17.3 mmt in the June 2010-11 market year. Imports are thus forecast to decline by 500kt to 2.5mmt. India Pulse and Grain Association have estimated that output of pulses during this summer season will likely be a little higher than the government's estimate of 6.4 mmt, due to favourable monsoonal rains. However acreage has slipped as growers have opted to grow more cotton and sugarcane as prices have surged in 2011.

Strategically I would not be a seller of new season chickpeas until they are in the bin, and probably concentrating in the Jan-March window, while exports from Canada are slow in the depth of their winter and before the Indian harvest. However, if this situation in Canada creates shorts in the market near term where Canadian exporters needing product get coverage from Australia, we could see a spike in prices any time for a short period, a bit like lentils last year when the harvest rains struck Canada.  Selling a few tonnes into a short driven spike might be an opportunity that now opens up.

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