Black Sea wheat exporters keep shipping despite last gasp stocks

Tue Apr 30, 2013 4:00am EDT

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By Pavel Polityuk and Polina Devitt

KIEV/MOSCOW, April 30 (Reuters) - Black Sea wheat producers have enough in stock to keep some exports flowing for the last two months of the season, keeping pressure on the world market which had all but written them off.

Ukraine and Russia have almost exhausted their exportable surplus for the 2012/13 season due to lower harvests last year and a high pace of shipments in the first half of this season, due to high foreign demand and lucrative prices, analysts said.

The two, which have already sold abroad more than 20 million tonnes of wheat this season, can export no more than 1 million tonnes of the commodity in the remaining two months of the 2012/13 marketing year.

Analysts and traders forecast that Russia, which exported 27 million tonnes of wheat in 2011/12, was likely to export about 250,000-500,000 tonnes of wheat during May and June despite low stocks.

Last week, Ukraine, the sixth-largest wheat exporter this season according to USDA estimates, lifted restrictions on wheat sales, and analysts estimate the volume of additional exports will be up to 300,000 tonnes.

Continued Black Sea exports, although severely reduced, are a headache for competitors.

"Weak EU wheat exports of 237,000 tonnes in the last reporting week point to growing competition as a result of cheap supply from the U.S. and the resumption of exports from the Black Sea region," said Commerzbank in a daily commodities note.

Traders estimated Black Sea wheat was trading at around a $30 per tonne discount to U.S. soft red wheat on a cost and freight basis to North Africa.

"The world wheat balance sheet is not as tight as some people speculated it could have been," said a European trader.

"The only reason the EU sustained an export programme for as long as it did and the size that it did was because of the problems in South America with production... and the Black Sea wouldn't allow anymore exports."

Traders said that North African destinations in need of imports were likely to hold off until the new crop becomes available from July.

"Demand is slow because consumers are bearish. They're going to buy as little as possible until the new crop comes," said a European trader.

DROUGHT, EXPORT CAP

Russia was hit by a drought last year that slashed its grain crop by a quarter and quickly depleted the exportable surplus. But a domestic price decline helped by sales from government grain stocks revived its exports a few weeks ago.

Historically the world's number three wheat exporter, Russia has already exported 15 million tonnes since the start of the 2012/13 season and beaten official forecasts, Dmitry Rylko, the head of the Institute for Agricultural Market Studies (IKAR), said.

Its wheat stocks at procurement and processing companies were down 38 percent as of April 1 from a year earlier at 6.1 million tonnes, data from the Federal Statistics Service showed. It did not say how much wheat was being held on farms.

Grain stocks at farms, and procurement and processing companies, excluding small farms, were down 30 percent at 18 million tonnes as of April 1.

"Traditional Russian importers and may be some small countries are likely to buy wheat during May and June," Rylko added.

Ukrainian wheat output fell by 30 percent last year and worries about potential wheat deficit in 2012/13 forced the government to cap exports at 6.3 million tonnes.

"Additional exports of wheat in May-June will not reach 500,000 tonnes. Most likely, Ukraine will be able to sell about 300,000 tonnes of wheat in the next two months because demand is negligible," a major foreign trader said.

He said the exports had already reached 6.5 million tonnes as of April 26 and would not exceed 6.7-6.8 million tonnes for the whole season.

"We have almost nothing to sell. Low stocks and high domestic prices mean that the volume of additional exports could be between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes," said Volodymyr Lapa from Kiev-based UCAB consultancy.

The Agriculture Ministry has estimated additional wheat exports at up to 400,000 tones - if traders convince farmers to sell their stocks.

"The figure of 200,000 to 400,000 tonnes of wheat is the most realistic volume of exports," said Vitaly Sabluk, the head of the ministry's economic department. (Additional reporting by Sarah McFarlane in London, editing by William Hardy)