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Palm oil demand will be limited if prices continue to rise - analysts

SINGAPORE/JAKARTA (Reuters) - Palm oil demand may be restrained next year, as supply shortages triggered by unfavourable weather, infrastructure issues and the COVID-19 pandemic push prices up further, analysts told a virtual palm oil conference on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A palm oil seed is seen at a plantation in Pulau Carey, Malaysia, January 31, 2020. Picture taken January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng/File Photo

Higher prices may lead consumers to look for cheaper alternatives, eventually pushing palm oil prices lower in the second half of next year, leading edible oils analysts Thomas Mielke and Dorab Mistry said.

“Remember, demand is killed by very high prices,” Mistry said, adding lower demand could mean that by July and August next year, palm prices could halve from their peak.

Palm prices have been increasing this year due to bad weather, low fertiliser use, lack of replanting and a shortage of manpower triggered by social distancing measures imposed by countries during the pandemic.

“Overall world output for the versatile edible oil fell 4.5 million tonnes last season. (This is) surprising and unprecedented,” Mielke said.

“For next season we expect production to rebound, but this rebound will be considerably slower than a similar situation 5 years ago,” he added.

Also propping up prices is speculation Malaysia may keep duty free palm exports for January-March next year.

If it does, benchmark palm oil prices are likely to jump to as high as 4,000 ringgit per tonne in January, Mistry said.

Malaysian benchmark prices have already reached eight-year highs this year, Refinitiv data showed.

On the Indonesian side, higher export levies announced earlier on Thursday may make palm oil lose its market competitiveness.

The country will impose higher levies starting Dec. 10, a move that could impact demand next year as it seeks to generate funds for a palm-based biodiesel programme.

“This export levy will have a 200% effect on price volatility,” Mistry said.

“Volatility and prices in 2021 is going to be higher or as high as the volatility in 2020”.

Reporting by Fathin Ungku and Fransiska Nangoy; Editing by Ed Davies and Mark Potter

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