Coffee to Soybeans Surge as Brazil Drought Threatens Output

Feb 18, 2014 10:13 pm ET

(Adds palm oil price in seventh paragraph.)

Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Coffee jumped the most in a decade, soybeans reached the highest since December and sugar rallied as drought scorches fields in Brazil, the world’s biggest exporter of the crops.

The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Agriculture Index of eight commodities capped a seventh straight gain yesterday, the longest streak since 2011. Rain in growing regions will be 75 percent less than normal in the next five days, deepening a moisture deficit after the driest January since 1954, David Streit, an agricultural meteorologist at Commodity Weather Group, said in a phone interview from Bethesda, Maryland.

Prices for arabica coffee surged 40 percent in 2014 as production losses in Brazil’s top growing state may be as much as 30 percent, the biggest farmers’ group estimates. Forecasters including AgRural, Agroconsult and Celeres have cut their outlooks for the soybean harvest. This year’s rally may boost expenses for Starbucks Corp., the largest coffee-shop chain, and sugar costs for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc.

“Brazil is such a powerhouse in these markets, and any sort of adverse-weather event will affect these commodities in a significant way,” Michael Smith, the president of T&K Futures & Options in Port St. Lucie, Florida, said by phone. “Speculators have jumped on board with this Brazilian drought.”

Arabica coffee for May delivery rose 8.8 percent to settle at $1.5485 a pound yesterday in New York on ICE Futures U.S., after surging as much as 10 percent, the biggest intraday gain since November 2004. Prices reached $1.5665, the highest for a most-active contract since January 2013.

Extreme Weather

Extreme global weather also is threatening other crops with too much rain hampering Indonesia’s cocoa harvest, while freezing temperatures may have damaged U.S. wheat. The GSCI Agriculture Index rebounded 5.6 percent this year, after a 22 percent plunge in 2013 that was the biggest since 1981.

Palm oil advanced 0.7 percent to 2,734 ringgit ($827) a metric ton in Kuala Lumpur today, the highest since September 2012. Futures rallied 28 percent from a three-year low in July as output in Indonesia fell last year and on concern a smaller soybean crop in Brazil may reduce global cooking oil supply.

In the past 30 days, precipitation was as little as 1 inch (2.54 centimeters) across most of Brazil’s growing regions, or 88 percent below normal, according to Commodity Weather’s Streit. Damage to coffee crops in Minas Gerais state was “more severe than imagined,” Carlos Alberto Paulino da Costa, head of Cooperativa Regional de Cafeicultores em Guaxupe Ltda, known as Cooxupe, said on Feb. 13. The company is the world’s largest coffee cooperative.

Hedge-Fund Bets

A measure of speculative positions across 11 agricultural products jumped 30 percent to the highest since late October as of Feb. 11, data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission show. The net-long position in coffee surged 97 percent to 15,728 contracts, the highest since September 2011. Hedge funds are holding the first net-bullish position in corn since June and have increased their outlook for a soybean rally.

Parts of Mato Grosso and Parana, Brazil’s biggest producers of corn and soybeans, received less than 60 percent of normal rainfall in the past 90 days, data from World Ag Weather show. AgRural this week cut its Brazil soybean-crop forecast to 87 million metric tons from 88.8 million.

Soybean for May delivery reached $13.4925 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade today, the highest for a most-active contract since Dec. 10. Prices advanced 1.7 percent yesterday and climbed 4.2 percent this year. Corn fell 0.2 percent to $4.545 a bushel today, after touching $4.5575 yesterday, the highest level since Sept. 30.

‘Weather Game’

Orange-juice futures slid 0.5 percent to $1.4365 a pound on ICE in New York. Prices are up 15 percent in the past 12 months. Brazil is the world’s biggest citrus producer.

“It’s all a weather game,” Jerry Gidel, the chief feed analyst at Rice Dairy LLC in Chicago, said in a telephone interview. In Minas Gerais and “Sao Paulo is where you have the citrus and the coffee and the sugar, so it has been impacted by less-than-ideal weather in the last month or six weeks. It’s starting to creep into the areas of soybeans.”

Raw-sugar futures for May delivery gained 3.2 percent to 16.5 cents a pound on ICE. The sweetener has rallied 12 percent since touching a 43-month low on Jan. 28.

Also in New York, cocoa for May delivery fell 0.3 percent to $2,959 a ton on ICE, after reaching $2,985, the highest since September 2011. Heavy rains are threatening crops in Indonesia, the third-largest grower. World demand will outpace supplies this season and next, Macquarie Group Ltd. says.

Wheat for May delivery was unchanged at $6.075 a bushel in Chicago today, after gaining 1.9 percent to yesterday. More Texas winter grain was rated in poor or very-poor condition as of Feb. 16 than a week earlier amid cold, dry weather, the state’s Department of Agriculture said yesterday.

“These are weather markets, which can be pretty dynamic in both directions,” said Ashmead Pringle, the president of Atlanta-based GreenHaven Commodity Services, which oversees about $320 million. “Overall, we’re seeing more interest and inflows into the agricultural space.”

--With assistance from Isis Almeida in London. Editors: Ovais Subhani, Jarrett Banks