India’s exports of guar gum, a thickening agent used for oil and gas extraction, may drop for the first time in three years after a record surge in prices forced drilling companies to seek cheaper alternatives.
Shipments may decline as much as 30 percent in the year that began on April 1 from 650,000 metric tons a year earlier, said P.K. Hissaria, president of the Indian Guar Gum Manufacturers Association. Exports in the six months through September were about 100,000 tons and sales will accelerate from this month with the arrival of the new crop, he said.
Falling exports may weigh on prices, which have slumped about 63 percent since reaching a record in March, lowering costs for oil and gas drilling services companies including Halliburton Co. (HAL) and Baker Hughes Inc. Lower prices will allow food companies easy access to a raw material that’s also used as an ingredient in food emulsifiers, additives and thickeners.
“Low demand and high supply translates into lower prices,” said Charlie Blanchard, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Guar gum rallied more than nine-fold in one year to 95,920 rupees ($1,742) per 100 kilograms on the National Commodity & Derivatives Exchange Ltd. in Mumbai, forcing the commodity market regulator to suspend futures trading in March. The rally boosted costs for Halliburton, the world’s largest provider of hydraulic-fracturing services, Chief Executive Officer Dave Lesar said in a conference call with analysts on Oct. 17.
Halliburton and Baker Hughes (BHI) help companies drill and complete oil and gas wells using a pressure-pumping technique known as fracking, which blasts water mixed with sand and chemicals underground to free trapped hydrocarbons from shale formations. Guar is made into a thickening gel used to carry sand down a well and into the cracks created from fracturing.
India accounts for more than 70 percent of the global production of guar, which means “cow food” in Hindi, according to the Multi Commodity Exchange of India Ltd. (MCX) The seed is also grown in Pakistan and the U.S.
Spot prices have slumped to $6,500 a ton since India banned futures trading and on expectations of a bigger crop, said Mitul Shah, managing director of Rama Industries, India’s third- largest shipper. Oil and gas drilling companies will use guar only if prices were about $5,500 a ton as alternatives such as carbon methyl cellulose were available at lower prices, he said.
Higher inventories with the drilling companies and slowing drilling activities had reduced demand for Indian guar gum supplies, Shah said.
“Moving into next year we expect a reduction in guar costs as we take deliveries of new lower-cost inventory which we believe will translate into a tailwind to our PE margins in 2013,” Halliburton’s Lesar said.
Halliburton has developed an alternative to guar gum called PermStim that’s highly competitive in the event of future guar cost escalation, Timothy J. Probert, president for strategy and corporate development, told analysts.
Guar seed production may climb to as much as 2.5 million tons this year, enough to make at least 600,000 tons of guar gum, from about 1.5 million tons in 2011-12, manufacturers’ association’s Hissaria said. The harvest has begun and arrivals will gather pace from the end of this month, he said.
The crop area under guar is estimated to have increased 56 percent to about 5 million hectares (12.4 million acres) this year in three major growing states of Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat, said Rajesh Kedia, director at Jai Bharat Gum & Chemicals Ltd., India’s second-biggest exporter of guar gum.
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