Bloomberg News

Russia Targets Asia With Cheapest Wheat After Putin’s Ban

August 01, 2011

(Updates freight rates from second paragraph.)

Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Russia, the world’s second-biggest wheat exporter before halting sales last year, is offering the largest discount on the grain in at least four years and targeting buyers in Southeast Asia to regain its share of the world market after lifting an export ban a month ago.

Russian wheat costs at least $40 a metric ton less than North American, French or Australian supplies, according to the Moscow-based Institute for Agricultural Market Studies researcher, also known as IKAR. That makes shipping to countries such as Malaysia viable after freight rates fell 44 percent in the past 12 months.

Russia’s grain exports in July probably rose to 2 million tons, the highest monthly shipments on record, according to IKAR and Moscow-based agriculture researcher SovEcon. Exports to long-haul destinations such as Southeast Asia and southern Africa may reach as much as 1 million tons in the 12 months that end June 30, compared with the previous record of 650,000 tons in the 2009-2010 season, according to IKAR.

“Russia is offering such a big discount that it allows the grain to travel these crazy distances,” said Dmitry Rylko, director of IKAR. “Buying Russian wheat may be cheaper than Australian.”

Russia, the world’s second-largest wheat exporter behind the U.S. in the 12 months ended June 30, 2010, fell to eighth in the following period as exports slumped 79 percent to 3.9 million tons, data from the International Grains Council show.

Vietnam, Malaysia

The outlook for Russia’s wheat production in the 12 months through June next year was raised by 2 million tons to 56 million tons, the IGC said July 28, increasing its June 30 forecast. Russia is expected to ship 13 million tons of the grain in the 12 months that end June 30, the IGC said.

Aston FFI, a Lausanne, Switzerland-based unit of grain and oilseed producer and exporter OAO Aston, is in talks to ship wheat to Vietnam and Malaysia, and is “aware” of similar discussions by other Russian traders, said Peter Biermann, general manager of grain export operations. Aston also sold wheat to Kenya and Mozambique, he said. Aston says it accounts for 10 percent of Russian cereal exports.

“In former years those markets were served by cheaper origins, might it be the U.S., might it be Argentina, might it be Australia,” Biermann said. “This year everything is different. Clearly it’s the price of Russian wheat which is unbeatable at the moment, at least.”

The distance between Russia’s southern port of Novorossiysk, the main grain export hub, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is 6,900 nautical miles (7,940 miles), according to e- ships.net website.

Egyptian Purchases

Egypt, the world’s biggest importer, bought 720,000 tons of Russian grain since the ban was lifted, while Jordan and Tunisia also made purchases, according to tender results. Egypt had dropped Russia from its list of approved sources after the eastern European country imposed its ban, according to the country’s state wheat buyer.

The northern Africa nation agreed to buy 120,000 tons of Russian milling wheat for $249.47 to $250.40 a ton on July 26. November-delivery milling wheat traded on NYSE Liffe in Paris was at the equivalent of $283.27 a ton at 4:10 p.m. local time today.

“They are aggressive,” said Jack Watts, a senior analyst at the U.K.’s Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, an industry group funded by farmers. In the Egyptian tender “they were $35 cheaper than the nearest competitor, France.”

Discount to Narrow

The cost of hiring panamax ships, which typically carry grains as well as coal and iron ore, has slumped 44 percent in the past year to $11,995 a day, according to the Baltic Exchange in London. When transportation costs decline, it makes it cheaper for traders to move cargoes across longer distances.

The discount will gradually narrow as Russia runs out of its exportable surplus and long-haul deliveries may wane in about two months, according to IKAR.

Competitors’ prices are also falling. Milling wheat fell 16 percent in Paris trading in the past two months, partly amid concern that Russian exports would reduce demand for European and U.S. cargoes. Prices slid 4.1 percent in Chicago.

Russia’s Agriculture Ministry estimates total grain exports in the 2011-2012 marketing year will be 20 million tons as the harvest rebounds to as much as 90 million tons. The crop shrank to 60.9 million tons last year as the country suffered its worst drought in at least 50 years, prompting the government to ban exports to ensure domestic supplies.

Ukrainian Competition

Australia, the third-biggest wheat exporter in the 2010-11 season, will ship 18.5 million tons by the end of the Australian marketing year, according to the IGC. Deliveries between October and May totaled 12.6 million tons, according to the Australian government.

“There is not a great deal of milling wheat potentially left on the east coast of Australia,” Paul Deane, an economist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., said by phone from Melbourne.

In Southeast Asia, Russia has competed with Ukraine, which offers similar quality grain, rather than Australia, said Alexander Korbut, vice president of Russia’s Grain Union, which represents the country’s biggest producers and traders. Deliveries from Ukraine are slumping as traders lose money because of customs duties and delays in getting back value-added tax, he said.

Ukraine exported 3.39 million tons of wheat to Southeast Asia in the 2009-2010 marketing year, before shipments slumped to 647,000 tons in the 12 months ended June 30 as the government set quotas on overseas shipments, according to Kiev, Ukraine- based researcher UkrAgroConsult.

More Expensive

Russian grain is gradually becoming more expensive for importers. Egypt paid as much as $255.25 a ton for Russian wheat at a July 29 tender, up from $243.50 on July 7, when it bought the grain for the first time after the Russian ban expired.

“We still have a couple of months to sell at extra-long distances,” IKAR’s Rylko said. “It’s impossible to sell grain so cheap for a long period of time.”

--With assistance from Alaric Nightingale in London, Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris, Ola Galal in Cairo and Kateryna Choursina in Kiev. Editors: John Deane, Dan Weeks

To contact the reporters on this story: Maria Kolesnikova in London at mkolesnikova@bloomberg.net; Marina Sysoyeva in Moscow at msysoyeva@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at ccarpenter2@bloomberg.net


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