The problem with rice in Asia and the Americas in 2016

The problem with rice in Asia and the Americas in 2016

Prelude to Hamilton Feb. 27 talk Memphis Mid-South Farm and Gin Show. Where rice markets currently stand. Predictions for 2016.

In my last article I explained why I’m bullish long-term on the price of rice and focused in on China. Here, I bore into India in a bit more detail. I also note that rice futures are almost worthless to farmers at this time of the year.

For the last few years, the rice price has sat at the bottom of the price range in Asia and the United States. I want to talk about the Western Hemisphere rice markets, and then turn to Asia where all rice price trends begin and end. My conclusions might startle you -- at least that’s my hope.

The strong dollar is very good news for farmers in Brazil as they are getting record prices for corn. The rice now beginning to come out of the field carries a pretty stout price, as well. That is the good news.

The bad news is the rice crop has been hit by bad growing weather and the economy is a mess; farmers cannot get the credit they need to buy the inputs they need to deal with bad weather. Blight is everywhere as a result. You never know what a rice crop is until it comes out of the field but it doesn’t look too sporty “down under” in February.

In the United States, rice farmers are staring at a bunch of row crops that offer little profitability. Credit is also now a challenge as we move into a second year of cheap grain prices. Rice looks like the lesser of several evils as we approach planting which could lead to more rice in 2016. That means the U.S. and Thai price must converge in the next six months. Any profitability in 2016/17 must come from the trend higher in the Asian rice price.

Matter of faith

The bad news now is that Thai rice is about $80 per MT cheaper than U.S. rice as a milled export item. Some are asking me if it pays to grow rice this year and what the rice price will do. Well, planting rice is a matter of faith at this time of year regardless; it’s the only grain crop farmers cannot book at planting because futures are so thin in volume there is no open interest. Low volume futures create liquidity problems for options as well.

You can book wheat at planting but not rice. Since 1995, and especially since 2009 when wheat made three strategic contract changes, wheat volume has gone up five-fold. Since 1995, rice futures have made no changes at all to both the contract and rice volume.

Is this a coincidence? I think not. As Albert Einstein said, "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

The only way to short the rice market is to not plant the stuff, which I believe is an unwise decision in 2016 because of the farm program and because of what is happening or should soon be happening in Asia.

Will US rice prices drop $40-80 per MT by harvest and cause a profit rip in the US rice farming industry in 2016/17? That has to be the big fear in all our minds.

Here are some events I predict in 2016. If you will, please think about them prior to the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show in Memphis when I’ll speak at 1:30 on February 27. I’ll take these events and try to fit them together so in March you’ll have my current idea of what could happen to the U.S. rice market price for the rest of 2016 and beyond.

  • The U.S. dollar could be at the high for the year in early 2016 and go lower for many months to come.
  • The Asian rice price has no place to go but up, especially if the U.S. dollar goes down in value.
  • World rice trade now represents 51 percent of total rice stocks. There is less margin of safety.
  • In 1990, world trade was only 10 percent of world rice stocks.
  • Because of a bad wheat crop and lower rice production, India’s food grain stocks in 2017 could dip to 7.8 percent, or less, of domestic use.
  • A 7.8 percent stocks-to-use in India would be a 36 million MT decrease in food grain stocks since 2012, when stocks stood at 28 percent of use.
  • The last time food grain stocks/use were lower than 7.8 percent was in 1974/75 when they reached 5.3 percent of use and rough rice was bid at $30 per cwt. in Texas or about $90 per cwt in current dollar terms.
  • In 2007/08 when India banned exports, food grain stocks were 11.2 percent of use and rice went to $1000 per MT.
  • India can relieve its potential shortage of wheat through large imports but they can do little about the rice situation except to shut down some rice exports and pray for rain this summer.
  • In Thailand, expect rice stocks in 2016 to drop to pipeline and in 2017 exports must be cut by 3 million to 4 million MT to hold domestic stocks at a minimum.
  • China will be importing more than 6 million MT for reasons outlined in my last rice article and hopefully to include the United States by 2017.
  • Rice exports could drop by 5 million to 7 million MT out of India and Thailand by 2017 as they try to rebuild stocks, not deplete them further.

Unless the Asian rice market has repealed the economic laws of demand and supply, the rice price must rise, as in up.

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