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wheat-endowment.jpg Willie Vogt

China trade could bring a wheat surprise

While traders' eyes are turned toward soybeans, it turns out wheat could notch a win with the trade deal too

By Isis Almeida and Michael Hirtzer

In the agriculture world, news of the partial U.S.-China trade deal has sparked a lot of buzz about soybeans. It turns out, wheat could actually end up being a bigger winner.

Speculations is mounting that China will work to fill its wheat-buying quota as part of the detente, creating new demand since it’s failed to stick to the pledge in the past. Purchases of soybeans, meanwhile, are likely to be hampered by a deadly pig disease that’s reducing demand for the oilseed used to make a key ingredient in hog feed.

Wheat prices are already reacting as traders expect that China will soon release the quota, according to Chicago-based consultants AgResource. While the allotment, which is set by the World Trade Organization, could be filled by supplies from any country, it still means additional global demand at a time when international buyers have turned to American supplies.

Wheat quota potential

If Chinese purchases were to reach the quota mark of 9.6-million tons, it would represent a huge jump in demand. In the six years through 2017, buying has averaged less than 50% of the allotment.

“The potential that China could secure an additional 5 to 6 million tons of world wheat annually is underpinning Chicago Board of Trade wheat,” Chicago-based consultant AgResource Co. said in a report Thursday.

Wheat futures for March delivery climbed 1.5% Thursday in Chicago. Soybeans and corn were little changed.

The potential sales to China would be well-timed for U.S. farmers. Relatively tighter corn supplies in South America and wheat in top shipper Russia have made American grain more competitively priced, already prompting non-Chinese buyers to boost purchases. In the week ended Dec. 12, American exporters sold the most wheat in six years, according to USDA figures, excluding skewed data released after the federal government shutdown earlier this year.

Corn could also benefit if China moves to fill grain quotas, but to a smaller degree. At 7.2 million tons, the allotment is not only smaller, but the Asian nation has historically done a better job of filling it, meaning it wouldn’t represent a very big increase in demand.

“The impact on corn values is far less,” AgResource said.

To contact the reporters on this story:
Isis Almeida in Chicago at ialmeida3@bloomberg.net
Michael Hirtzer in Chicago at mhirtzer@bloomberg.net
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Tina Davis at tinadavis@bloomberg.net
Millie Munshi, Patrick McKiernan
© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.
TAGS: Crops Trade
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