The impact of coronavirus continues to be the primary driver for financial and commodity markets. World wheat prices saw significant volatility this week, driven by exaggerated moves in foreign exchange rates and high nearby consumer demand. The Bank of England cut UK interests rates to a record low of just 0.1% and, with the British government introducing other financially supportive measures for the UK economy, sterling fell by 6.5% versus the euro. As a result, London wheat futures rallied to new contract highs for November 2020 and, from the lowest to the highest, achieved a spread in prices of £12/t. The euro also fell versus the US dollar, adding value to European wheat prices. Demand for bread products increased as panic buying cleared supermarket shelves, brought millers back to the market, and added weight to the increase in old crop wheat prices.
Currently, the underlying issue for the market is nervousness around global trade execution due to Covid-19. Buyers are still out there (Tunisia and Algeria for example), but usual offers are down in volume by circa 50%.
The kill rate in the broiler (chicken meat) market has increased drastically on the back of shoppers panic buying. The same is also now true of bread; supermarket shelves are empty and the demand for wheat is significantly higher than first forecast. However, this could be the short-term picture. Due to so many individuals stockpiling products, and with the hospitality and leisure industry likely to be heavily impacted by the recent government advice around social distancing, medium-term demand for meat and cereals could be much lower.
The impact of coronavirus on global economies has been the overwhelming factor driving wheat prices this week. The widespread panic-selling seen in stocks and shares and crude oil spilled into all commodities, pushing world wheat prices down.
US wheat futures fell to lows not seen since last September and their losses since mid-January rose to 15%. However, the impact of this on UK wheat futures was reduced as sterling lost ground to the euro following the Bank of England base rate cut of 0.5%.
Despite the increasing spread of coronavirus and concerns surrounding its potential impact on demand, world wheat markets have managed to tread water this week with overall minimal change. International trade does not appear to have been affected yet, with importing countries such as Tunisia, Korea and Thailand continuing to make wheat purchases.
Although Friday morning saw price volatility, US wheat futures were trading within one cent of last week's closing prices. Concerns may be greater for supply rather than demand. Furthermore, a Chinese government working group stated that farmers must not let grain output decline this year despite coronavirus ensuring food security.
Wheat markets have rallied this week, bouncing back from the sell-off that we saw last week as a result of the coronavirus.
London wheat futures recovered £4 per tonne from Friday's low point, also encouraged higher by sterling weakness versus the euro. A settled UK weather outlook is encouraging for potential spring plantings but winter drilling is now done. Unfortunately, the prospect of a 2020 wheat crop that is little more than half the size of the 2019 crop is a concerning likelihood.
The spread of the coronavirus has triggered record-breaking falls in stock market values this week, with crude oil losing a quarter of its value since the beginning of 2020. This negativity has inevitably spilled into grain markets and world wheat prices have dropped 6% since last Friday's close.
There are concerns over the impact the virus could have on supply chains and demand, although international trade appears to be continuing as normal at present. Futures markets are oversold but, should the virus continue to spread, it seems likely that global wheat prices will continue to come under pressure.
Farmers in Russia have enjoyed the opposite of the dire weather conditions endured by UK farmers. Prolonged settled weather during the autumn and a mild winter allowed Russian farmers to exceed their winter wheat planting expectations and there are limited signs of any damaging winter kill.
Various analysts are now suggesting that the Russian 2020 wheat harvest will be the second highest on record. Estimates range from 75-85 million tonnes with the record being harvested in 2017 at 85 million tonnes.
US wheat futures markets eased again this week, dropping to price levels not seen since December.This drew Black Sea and European markets lower too. There is still no evidence of any US wheat export business to China following the signing in mid-January of 'phase one' of the China/US trade deal, and US wheat is not competing for business in other markets such as North Africa.
This week, Egypt held a tender for wheat to be supplied during April. They bought 180,000 tonnes from both Russia and Romania at prices that, on average, were $6/t below their previous tender from France two weeks ago.
World wheat markets have managed to achieve modest gains this week, supported by ongoing strong international export trade but lacking any fresh price drivers. Futures remain a good 4% below their January highs. China remains a primary focus, with the combination of their wheat buying activity, the coronavirus outbreak and their trade deal with the US creating a recipe of uncertainty.
Following the signing of 'phase one' of the US/China trade deal, US traders expected to see a wave of wheat buying activity as China began their obligation to purchase US agricultural products.
Following losses of 4% during the last third of January, around £2 per tonne has been added to world wheat prices since the market closed on Friday.
There is little fresh news to influence prices but wheat exports from the EU and Ukraine continue to move at a strong pace. EU exports climbed to 16.4 million tonnes by the 2nd February, compared to just 9.9 million tonnes at the same time last year. Despite strike action hindering logistics, French ports shipped their biggest volume of wheat for six years during January.
Having rallied to 18-month highs early last week, world wheat markets have subsequently taken a negative turn with US Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat futures leading the move lower.
Expectations for sizeable US wheat export trade to China following the signing of 'phase one' of the US/China trade agreement so far has failed to materialise, triggering a fund sell-off. The worsening coronavirus outbreak has added to the negative market sentiment with a perception that it will inhibit trade to China. European markets have followed and London wheat futures have now lost £7 from the recent highs.
European wheat markets traded steadily lower this week in the wake of last Wednesday's global price spike. Many of the supportive factors remain in play, but uncertainty over US-China trade talks and nervousness surrounding the Coronavirus outbreak were enough to spark a round of fund selling in agricultural commodities, including Chicago wheat and corn.
Data from Brussels put EU wheat exports 70% ahead of last year's pace and this looks set to continue, with French wheat currently the cheapest in the world. Despite this, Matif mirrored Chicago, trading €5 lower in the aftermath of last week's 17-month highs.
The International Grains Council (IGC) published its world Supply & Demand report this week, in which it cut consumption by two million tonnes and year-end stocks by one million tonnes on its previous estimates. However, consumption at 755.9 million tonnes is a record level and 17.6 million tonnes up on last year. Stocks are seen at 271 million tonnes which is also a record high and 5.7 million tonnes up on the year.
Despite world wheat stocks being seen to reach record levels on paper, world wheat prices rallied further this week, driven higher by the fast export pace from the world's major producers. Ukrainian wheat exports have reached 15.6 million tonnes so far this season – 4.2 million tonnes ahead of last year.
US, French and London wheat futures markets have all continued to rally this week, reaching highs not seen for almost a year and a half.
Following the signing of the 'phase one' trade deal last week, the US market is firmer as a result of expectations for export trade to China. Support there also comes from their export pace which is running 15% ahead of last year.
French wheat futures are higher on strong EU export demand which, at 15.7 million tonnes so far this season, is running 71% ahead of last year. The strike action that is crippling French export facilities is also creating a technical rise in French wheat futures as shorts try to buy back their positions in the nearby contract.
US wheat futures markets continued to rally earlier this week, reaching 14-month highs ahead of the US and China signing 'phase one' of their trade deal. Bullish traders were encouraged by the view that, in its part of the agreement, China would make significant purchases of US agricultural products and start buying notable volumes of US wheat.
However, the text of the agreement stated purchases would be made at market prices based on commercial considerations. In other words, wheat purchases would only be made if the wheat was needed and prices were favourable.
As sterling continues to fall, ex farm rapeseed prices in the UK remain supported. Markets are also seeing strong demand from crushers for the winter period as vegetable oil markets continue to find good support.
This week will also see the 'phase one' agreement between the US and China as part of their ongoing trade deal negotiations. However, as Brazilian soybeans are currently cheaper than the US, it is unlikely that China will switch supply unless there is a significant increase in demand.
The world wheat market took a bullish turn over the festive season and that trend has continued during the first full trading week of 2020. The Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) wheat futures hit highs not seen since last June. Politics, weather and trade have all combined to encourage prices to move higher.
US wheat futures found particular support when Donald Trump's administration confirmed that 'phase one' of the new trade agreement between the US and China would be signed on the 15th of January. Market bulls got very excited by this news, with rumours that China might fulfil its wheat import quota which would allow it to import up to 9.6 million tonnes of wheat in 2020.
This week the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published its final UK wheat area, yield and production estimates for 2019. There were minimal changes to its provisional estimates but the report included a reminder of how significant the crop was at 16.225 million tonnes.This is just 58,000 tonnes below the provisional estimate – the largest UK crop since 2015 and 2.67 million tonnes up on the 2018 harvest.
Allowing for a minimal commercial carry out on paper, there is an exportable surplus of approximately 2.9 million tonnes. With 900,000 tonnes of that likely to be shipped by the end of this calendar year, there will be approximately 2 million tonnes to either compete for export or roll over to the 2020 season.
UK wheat markets were buoyed by strong domestic demand and optimism around global trade this week, with May '20 LIFFE trading up to £151.75 on Tuesday from last week's low of £145. The General Election result pushed sterling to its highest level since May 2018, peaking at $1.35 on Friday.
However, as the newly formed Conservative majority government looks set to rule out any further Brexit extension, some are suggesting this increases the chance of the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal. As a result, sterling fell back to pre-election levels and firmed UK grain prices.