Slow harvest, low stocks push China corn futures to new high

Corn futures in China have set new record highs as traders remain bullish amid the country’s slow harvest pace, depleted...

Corn futures in China have set new record highs as traders remain bullish amid the country’s slow harvest pace, depleted reserves and growing import demand, market sources told Agricensus Tuesday.

The most liquid corn futures contract on the Dalian Commodity Exchange moved up strongly after an eight-day national holiday last week, setting a new record high of CNY2,580/mt ($383/mt) as of Monday’s close.

That smashed the previous record of CNY2,570/mt ($382/mt), set in March 2015 with the move coming amid rumours that authorities have issued further import quotas in a bid to improve domestic supply.

“It is quite obvious that the domestic market is bullish. Trading houses are stocking up and farmer selling is slow. So I think it is difficult for the cash market [price] to fall at the moment,” said one China-based futures trader.

“There has been some [corn crop] lodging in the northeast and harvest has been slow,” one corn trader said, with lodging occuring when corn stalks were knocked over after a series of typhoons raged through some of the main producing regions.

During Tuesday trading, the corn contract’s price has hovered near the new record high for most of the day, finding support at CNY2,562/mt ($381/mt) as of the market close as traders continued to price in the stagnant harvest pace in northern China and low stocks.

China auctioned a total of 56.84 million mt of corn reserves between May and September this year, a process that came at the end of a five-year campaign to de-stock national reserves that kicked off in 2016.

Despite achieving its target and reducing inventory levels, the market is now faced with the challenge of tight supply.

Quota boost?

One way to alleviate the tight supply situation is to import more corn from abroad and the market has been fed with a new round of rumours that the Chinese government is looking to grant an additional quota to importers.

Most sources suggest a figure of up to 10 million mt, but some sources are quoting an extension of up to 20 million mt as China grapples with a shortage of supply. 

“The corn price is too high. It is possible that imports have surpassed the (existing) quota… corn stocks were all auctioned out,” said one source in the Chinese state-owned importer.

The Chinese government has already issued about 7 million mt worth of quota to importers this year and the market previously rumoured that an additional 10 million mt quota was issued to state-owned importers back in May this year amid fears of a supply gap.

China’s corn imports in the first eight months of 2020 have also totalled 5.6 million mt, up nearly 50% from the same period last year and mostly from Ukraine and the US, according to China Customs data.

Agricensus analysis suggests that as much as 6.3 million mt of corn has been shipped to China from the US and Ukraine already up to the end of September, but there remains a significant volume still to be shipped to China.

According to the USDA, China has booked a total of 9.98 million mt of corn from the US, of which 8.87 million mt has not yet been shipped to China, while line-up data for Ukraine’s ports shows another 583,300 mt of corn is nominated for shipment to China in October alone.

China’s agriculture ministry expects the country imports in 2020/21 marketing year to hit 7 million mt amid a domestic harvest of 265 million mt and a total demand of 288 million mt.

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