US officials cautioned over expectations of a substantial rise in Chinese soybean imports, citing the “high” stocks of the oilseed already bought, amid market questions over a slow pace of US export orders.
The US Department of Agriculture’s Beijing bureau pegged at 92.5m tonnes soybean imports by China, the world’s top buyer, in 2017-18 on an October-to-September basis.
While a rise of 1.5m tonnes year on year, and representing a record high, the forecast is well below the USDA’s official forecast of 94.0m tonnes.
It also comes amid persistent market questions over US soybean exports in the new season, with advance orders down 39% year on year.
The bureau, relatively, weak forecast for China’s soy imports was attributed to a hangover from strong purchases for 2016-17, for which growth in buy-ins was pegged at 7.8m tonnes.
“Adequate global soybean supplies at competitive prices have encouraged Chinese buyers to increase imports since late 2016,” the bureau said in a report.
In July, “China’s monthly soybean imports hit a record of over 10m tonnes,” a gain of 30% year on year, a jump “partially due to the government’s reduction, of two percentage points, to the value added tax”, a cut that came into effect at the start of that month.
Soybean imports, which for the January-to-July period were up 16.8% at 545.89m tonnes, “could have been even higher if some traders had not chosen to resell some of their shipments to other markets during July and August”.
However, with consumption of the soybeans unable to keep pace with their supply, “the resulting high soybean stocks left at the end of 2016-17 will temper net import growth in 2017-18”, the bureau said.
Margins enjoyed by soybean crushers have since February “turned negative”, a trend that “is expected to continue during the last months of 2016-17”.
Prospects for China’s import growth are “considerably lower” than in 2016-17, for which buy-ins were seen rising by 7.8m tonnes.
The comments follow a series of reports last month of Chinese crushers suspending operations in the face of weak margins, which were weighed by the dent to soymeal prices from a build-up in inventories of the feed ingredient.
Processors in Shandong, China’s top crushing region, were actually estimated by Reuters recently to be seeing positive crushing margins, but at a weak 8.17 yuan per tonne of soybeans.
Ports are also said to have been overwhelmed by the volumes of soybean imports – prompting indeed some merchants to seek alternative markets for some cargos.
Running behind pace
Meanwhile, in the US, there remain concerns over a slower pace of export sales orders for 2017-18, which started in the country on Friday, despite a flurry of recent purchases by Chinese buyers, typically of 136,000 tonnes.
“This seems to be repeater number we have seen near daily for the last three weeks,” said Benson Quinn Commodities, while flagging that China’s “new crop purchases running behind pace”.
Indeed, China had, as of August 24, purchased a little under 5.0m tonnes of US soybeans for delivery in 2017-18 (on a September-to-August basis) – a figure down 39% from the year-ago comparative.
Overall US soybean export sales for 2017-18, at 11.5m tonnes, are also down 39% year on year.