Agricultural markets: Hoarding and delivery logistics in focus

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By Ole Hansen

The corona virus negative impact on global demand has received most of the attention lately. During the past week however we have also started to see the impact on supply, or potentially the lack of supply, being felt as well. It has given several commodities a boost, not least across the agriculture sector

What is our trading focus?

CBOT Wheat - WHEATMAY20; Arabica Coffee - COFFEENYMAY20; Cotton - COTTONMAY2; OJK0 – Orange Juice

The global economic downturn that is currently unfolding have led to demand destruction for key commodities on a major scale. The energy sector led by gasoline has borne the brunt of the collapse in global energy demand as businesses shut down, workers stay at home and airlines ground their fleet. With this in mind the covid-19 outbreak has so far been a story of falling prices amid the drop in demand.

During the past couple of weeks however we have started to see the impact on supply, or potentially the lack of supply, being felt as well. It has given several commodities a boost, not least across the agriculture sector where the price of wheat, coffee and orange juice are now all trading up on the month. Commodities are goods that need to be physically transported from producer to the consumer. When the supply chain or logistics break down the impact is being felt through higher prices and this is what we have started to see recently.

A prolonged supply disruption now risks feeding through to higher prices in general. This at a time where the market already has done a 180 on inflation expectations after the US Federal Reserve on Monday rolled out some of its heaviest artillery to announce ‘open ended’ QE. It was a reminder of the moves they made in March 2009 which finally succeeded in stabilizing the global markets. The actions back then helped add some fuel to a 85% rally in the Bloomberg Agriculture Sub index from 2009 to 2011.

As the number of countries and cities under lock down continues to grow this is a development that requires close attention. It raises the potential for commodity prices being supported despite the oncoming recession. In other sectors we are seeing these developments supporting metals from copper to gold and platinum/palladium.

Arabica coffee and CBOT wheat have received most of the attention with both trading up strongly during the past couple of weeks. Coffee due to logistical problems in South America with Bloomberg reporting that: “Brazil’s Sao Paulo state will begin a 15-day quarantine from Tuesday, while Colombia has put its entire population on a three-week lockdown to stem the spread of the virus. El Salvador President Nayib Bukele also ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses through April 3.”

Wheat because global stay at home consumers have been hoarding flour-based products from bread to pasta and cookies. Just like the pandemonium seen in the gold market this week due to logistics it is important to stress that the world has not suddenly run out of supplies but we are facing a period where goods may struggle to reach their destinations. Other countries like China has been adding to its strategic reserves while some producers have restricted their exports in order to preserve domestic stocks.

Orange juice has been another overlooked commodity, which has suddenly sprung back into life. Stay at home US consumers have been stocking up on frozen orange juice and the rally this past week has been the most aggressive since 2015. Normally price spikes like these are mostly associated with periods of frost scares in Florida.

Not all agriculture commodities are winners with cotton being a prime example. The fiber is most often spun into yarn or thread and used to make a soft, breathable textile. With thousands of brick-and-mortar stores closed around the world, the demand for clothing has collapsed and retail outlets are seeing an unprecedented build in inventory.

Apart from trading the individual commodities there a several exchange traded funds that provide a broader exposure to the agriculture sector. Measured in market cap the DBA:arcx is the most popular followed by AIGA:xlon. They track different indices and have different compositions, both in terms of which futures contracts and how many they track.

— the writer is Head of Commodity Strategy, Saxo Bank


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