Five years ago, I got China right. But I got India all wrong. I predicted that China would be a huge rice importer. I did not in my wildest dreams imagine India, so desperately short of water, would so rapidly accelerate its water consumption beyond any other Asian nation and then flood the world with cheap rice exports.
We live and we learn. Don’t we?
Erick Hoffer, wrote in his book, The True Believer: “In times of change the future belongs to the learner while the learned will find beautiful ways to cope with a world that no longer exists.”
When it comes to the rice market, I urge you to not be a learned know-it-all, living in a rice market that does not even exist. Instead, become a rice market learner, every day.
This is a survival skill for your operation in this exponentially changing world with a new U.S. President no one predicted would win. I liken the shock at Trump’s surprise victory to the bearishness in the rice market right now.
No one thinks the rice price can recover for many months, if not years. The bull party is on the outside looking at the incumbent, pervasive market opinion of low rice prices forever.
Do not be so sure you are right (learned) and know all about this rice market. I have been trading or advising it for 35 years and have bought millions of tons and tens of millions of dollars of rice. Expect the unexpected. It is a Texas rattlesnake that can bite you in the wallet in a New York hedge fund minute.
Let me briefly explain to you one very good reason why the rice price is so low now. The reason is spelt I-N-D-I-A.
But first let’s do a quick overview of my book, “When Rice Shakes the World,” I wrote and where we are right now.
The world is divided into the haves and the have-nots. There are parts of the Earth that have less water on tap -- color them red. Then there are parts of the world that have lots of water -- color them green. Parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the Western United States are arid to semi-arid. These regions will never grow rice, which takes twice the water of dryland wheat.
Rice grows largely below the latitudinal line that crosses north Arkansas. Half the Asian rice belt, which is south of this latitudinal line, suffers from intense water problems. North of this belt line, folks can grow a lot of barley, corn, wheat and soybeans but about zero rice. The Earth has a shortage of area with good soils and flat terrain that can grow rice, if we should encounter a rice supply problem.
I want to leave you with three amazing facts.
- Five years ago, I was telling our subscribers that China would be the largest rice importer in the world. That came to pass.
- What is incredible to me is that the entire rice production in the Western Hemisphere is about equal to what is produced in Vietnam, just a tiny sliver of the Asian rice belt on the eastern edge of southeast Asia.
Vietnam is obsessed with putting rice first to keep people from starving. People are not starving there; just rice farmers who are starving there financially as the government makes them grow a losing proposition, which is rice.
China is the good guy for world rice farmers. The price there is high at about $18 per cwt. and China imports rice like South Korea and Japan. But China imports rice because it cannot supply its citizens with the rice they want. Imported rice is not just cheaper but it is also edible. About 10-30 percent of its rice land produces rice no one wants to eat. End of story.
That should be bullish on the price but perhaps not quite yet. China is now bent on setting aside millions of hectares of polluted farm land, which is a very good idea. India should also curb its rapidly accelerating water use as well. Then, the world rice market would become rational again.
- What amazes me is that India is an exporter, massive exporter of rice.
That is a mystery to me I did not in any way predict five years ago. India has a massive and growing over use of its groundwater. Half of India is arable, while only 15 percent of China is arable. So, India gives away water virtually for free so rice farmers will elect politicians. It is about growing votes, not just rice. I got India all wrong.
The rice market had a price earthquake or rather volcano in 2008 and the world rough rice or paddy markets blew apart. China hiked its rice price to the moon because it is a good guy. India pushed billions of dollars’ worth of subsidized inputs to keep its rice price dirt cheap. All paddy markets are sinking towards that $7 per cwt. price in India. Ouch!
No county in Asia with collapsing water tables should grow rice for $7 per cwt. But India is doing just that and burying the market with 10.5 million metric tons of exports each year.
Any forecast of rising world rice prices must include a turnaround in the paddy price in India. I think India has declining rice stocks and wheat stocks and things could get very interesting in 2017. If the rupee gets stronger against the U.S. dollar, their price will rise just as it has weakened with the weak rupee.
The demonetization of the rupee and the lack of cash banknotes for trading have created a huge mess, may cut winter wheat plantings and perhaps leave rice to rot because there is no cash to plant wheat or buy rice now.
So, that is the rice world and it is a bit crazy.
What about your market? Well two things determine the price you will receive: world paddy trends I just discussed and then the basis, the local difference between cash minus futures. You want to sell your rice when the local basis is strong. That can make a $1 to $2 difference in what you receive for your rice.
We watch all the regional rough rice markets for long- and medium-grain as well as rough rice markets in every major rice country of the world. On our website and in our newsletter, we watch the basis: Arkansas, the Mississippi River delivered price, CIF NOLA, Texas, SWLA, and even California medium-grain. We have been doing this since 2003. Visit our website, www.firstgrain.com, and learn about the global and local side of your rice market.
Become an unassuming learner, not a presumptuous, learned person. The market in the next 12 months will not be dull. It will be violently volatile. Be prepared for the unexpected.
If everyone whispers in your ear who will win for sure, be prepared for a dark horse to take it all in Washington, D.C. and in Chicago. And I am not referring to the Cubs or their momma bears either.