Dairy prices have fallen below “sustainable” levels, but producers will have to wait until late this year for a recovery as Chinese importers, which has “bought far more than they needed”, work their way through their stockpiles.
Rabobank said that the plunge in dairy prices, which have fallen by about one-quarter at GlobalDairyTrade since early February, was “more severe than anticipated” and has taken them below levels it “considers to be sustainable in the medium term”.
In the European Union, for instance, the top cows’ milk producer, the dent to margins from lower milk payouts will slow year-on-year production growth to “just” 1% in the second half of 2014, down from 6.4% seen in the first four months of the year.
In New Zealand, the top milk exporting country, growth in the newly-started 2014-15 marketing year will slow to 2-3% “at best” from an estimated 10.5% last season.
Overall output growth in major exporting countries “will slow considerably”, from 4.7% in the first half of the year to 1.8% in the second half.
‘Bought far more than they needed’
The slowdown has posed the question of “when, not if, prices move upwards again from here,” the bank said.
However, the answer appears to be that values may, potentially, not rise until next year, Rabobank said, cutting by up to $800 a tonne its forecasts for milk powder prices.
The bank forecast “little improvement in prices until late 2014-early 2015”, reflecting the need for buyers to digest the recent stronger-than-expected milk supplies, with the extent of Chinese stockpiles a particular pressure on values.
“China bought more than we anticipated in the first five months of the year. It now appears they also bought far more than they needed.”
A 60% rise in imports in the January-to-May period, coupled with a slowdown in demand growth, fostered by price rises, and a “stabilisation” in domestic milk production “have left major Chinese buyers and traders with a significant inventory accumulation”.
China milk production debate
Rabobank forecast that Chinese dairy production, hurt last year by poor weather and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, was running at year-ago levels, and would show an increase in the second half of the year, although the rate of growth “will remain very modest”.
However, some other observers are far more sanguine over milk production growth, with Agrimoney.com having heard some talk of rates running 6% higher than a year ago.
US Department of Agriculture staff in Beijing, in a report overnight, downgraded their estimate for Chinese cows’ milk production in 2014 to 36.0m tonnes, but this still represents an increase of 5.0% year on year.
Separately, industry data overnight showed Australian milk production running 8.2% higher last month than in May 2013.
That reduced to 0.2% the deficit for the full 2013-14 season, with one month to go.
A look at production around the world:
EU: 2014 has seen an extraordinary increase in EU milk production. Margins were high enough for many to simply choose to produce over quota limits, with production in the EU up 5.6% on Q2 last year. Growth is expected to continue outpacing domestic market consumption during 2H, although exportable surpluses are anticipated to slow considerably.
•US: US wholesale prices have slipped considerably less than those in the external market. They are in many cases at a significant premium to the world market in mid June and are expected to fall faster than elsewhere through 2H as exports fall back and domestic milk production picks up.
•New Zealand: New Zealand production was up 17.5% versus the same period in drought-impacted 2013. Export volumes are expected to trend well above the previous year through Q2 and Q3 2014 due to higher milk flows providing additional volume to be shipped during the seasonal trough versus 2013.
•Australia: The outlook for 2014/15 remains broadly positive for most dairying regions. While early price signals confirm southern export producers will face lower farmgate pricing in 2014/15 due to lower commodity prices, the market should remain supportive of investment.
•Brazil: Brazilian milk production declined seasonally from its December peak, as usual, but much more slowly than last year. There is likely to be little in the way of imports into the Brazilian market in 2H, while exporters will be trying to find a home for Brazilian production in the region and beyond.
•Argentina: Argentine milk production is expected to continue to fall below prior year levels in the second half of 2014. While margins over feed remain positive, other costs are subject to rapid inflation. In addition, a looming El Niño event is likely to bring above average rainfall from spring onwards, creating further problems on farm.