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Economist says U.S. farmers set for 'big day'

Economist says U.S. farmers set for 'big day'

• Cotton is still the bright and shining example of opportunity for U.S. growers. • There is no doubt the U.S. will be exporting a lot more cotton over the next few years. • As long as demand for cotton products mirrors cotton production, cotton prices are going to stay strong.

Foreign markets are opening up quickly for U.S. farm goods, as is reflected by the current high prices for U.S. grown crops.

American farmers are positioned well to meet these demands and get a very good payday for doing so, says Virginia Economist Dennis Gartman.

Gartman publishes the Suffolk, Va.-based Gartman Letter, a daily commentary on commodity and marketing issues. He has been publishing the daily commentary since 1987, and over the years has conducted numerous presentations and courses on issues relating to the capital markets and derivatives for various brokerage firms, central banks, and U.S. government entities.    

“The recession is over, though it may not seem like it in the U.S. or western Europe — we have been slow to recover. In parts of South America and even a few countries in Africa, recovery is progressing faster. In Asia the recovery is unbelievably rapid and it’s going to continue to grow, Gartman says.

“The first time I went to China, 18 years ago, I remember standing on a corner, waiting for a traffic light to change. I thought I was going to be run over by 10,000 bicycles. The last time I visited China, standing at the same street corner, and I thought I was going to be run down by 10,000 Mercedes,” he adds.

The point is, he explains, the Chinese middle class is growing at a remarkable pace. This middle class is already bigger than the total population of the U.S. — and growing. The Chinese middle class wants ‘stuff’ — they want cotton clothes, meat and high protein food and cars and fuel for those cars.

“The one thing you can count on is that Asian per capita income is going from the low end of the world spectrum to the high end at a very rapid pace. The advent of the Internet has had a profound impact on the growth of Asian economies and the economic power of countries like China and India will grow for a long, long time,” Gartman says.

There are now 55 provinces in China with populations higher than 5 million. That’s good for the Chinese economy, but not so good for China’s agricultural industry. Cheap labor in these areas is moving to the city and leveling the playing field for food and fiber products from the U.S. and other countries around the world.

Big market for cotton

“Over the course of the next 50 years, I can’t tell you how many pairs of denim jeans or cotton towels will be sold in China. U.S. cotton growers who have seen cotton prices double in the past few years, won’t be surprised to see $1.50 a pound cotton and higher in the future,” Gartman says.

The Chinese gross domestic product will pass the U.S.  However, it may be 200 years before the per capita wealth of Chinese passes the U.S. That is a very, very good thing, according to the Virginia economist.

The bottom line in China’s growth and that of other Asian nations is they will want to be able to buy a lot more corn, soybeans, wheat and other commodity crops from the United States over the next 10-20 years.

The value of the U.S. dollar is a critical factor in the ability of U.S. farmers to sell farm products. The Euro has fallen from a high of $1.43 to less than $1.30 over the past few months. On the other side of that coin, Gartman says, is the growing strength of Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars.

“In non-economic terms, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have ‘stuff’ to sell and the world wants stuff — corn, cotton, soybeans. Their dollar value is a negative in competing with the U.S. for export markets, but their big advantage is their government doesn’t abrogate contracts and the U.S. government has a history of cancelling deals,” he adds.

“The U.S. is losing export markets to these three countries and most of those goods are going straight to China. Canada, New Zealand and Australia all have lots of stuff to sell, good ports, good infrastructure, and they will be strong competitors with U.S. farmers for export markets,” Gartman says.

For 2011, he cautioned U.S. farmers to take a close look at what is happening around the globe. Grain growers, for example, should not under-estimate the negative impact winter floods in Australia had on their grain crop.

Speaking at the combined North Carolina Commodity Conference in mid-January, Gartman said corn prices will almost certainly go higher and stay higher for a long time. Soybeans are almost certain to go higher — world demand is there, he says.

“The flood and typhoon that hit Queensland state in Australia virtually eliminated their hard red winter wheat crop. Wheat prices are going higher, especially high protein wheat, and more especially hard red winter wheat.

“Cotton is still the bright and shining example of opportunity for U.S. growers. There is no doubt we will be exporting a lot more cotton over the next few years. As long as demand for cotton products mirrors cotton production, cotton prices are going to stay strong,” Gartman predicts.

“The bottom line is the world needs stuff and the demand for that stuff is going to get stronger and stronger. Perhaps the most important change in the commodity market is the drive toward backwardation. Watch the structure of the futures market, copper, crude oil, soybeans, and wheat to backwardation and above all we’ve taken cotton to backwardation.

“Global economies are getting stronger and growers should do everything the can to avoid selling their crops too quickly into a backwardated market. The demand is only going to get stronger. I own a lot of corn, soybeans and cotton and as of mid-January the market is telling me to get longer on all these commodities,” Gartman says.

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