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Corn Imports by China Seen More Than Doubling to Cap Prices

Corn Imports by China Seen More Than Doubling to Cap Prices
China will probably buy 5 million metric tons of corn this year from about 2 million tons in 2010, said Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization. Photographer: Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

China, the second-largest corn user, may more than double purchases to a record as it seeks to boost stockpiles and cool the fastest inflation in three years.

The country will probably buy 5 million metric tons this year from about 2 million tons in 2010, said Abdolreza Abbassian, senior economist at the United Nations’ Food & Agriculture Organization. That would top the 4.3 million tons in the year ended September 1995, according to U.S. government data.

Increasing demand for the feed ingredient consumed by hogs and chickens may support Chicago prices that fell 17 percent from a three-year high in June. Shrinking farmland and water shortages in China have combined with rising incomes and a doubling in pork consumption to drain supply and drive up costs, pushing inflation to 6.4 percent in June, the most since 2008.

“It’s all very strategic,” said Victor Thianpiriya, a commodity analyst at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

The country bought 540,000 tons of U.S. corn for delivery in the year starting Sept. 1 and a further 300,000 tons was sold to unknown destinations, the U.S. government said July 7.

That brought the amount sold by exporters without declaring a destination to about 2.5 million tons, fueling speculation China had already bought 3 million tons or more, Dave Smoldt, vice president of operations at INTL FCStone Inc., said in an e-mail. Corn traded at $6.5575 a bushel at 4:40 p.m. in Singapore after jumping 4 percent yesterday when the U.S. Department of Agriculture said global stockpiles would be less than expected.

Water, Farmland

Drought and dwindling arable land in China curbed growth in supplies of the grain also used for sweeteners and starch as urban incomes more than tripled in the past decade.

Farmland shrank by 8.33 million hectares (20.6 million acres) in the past 12 years, said Premier Wen Jiabao’s top agriculture adviser Chen Xiwen in March. Land under cultivation has dropped almost to the government’s 120 million hectare limit as new apartments and factories eroded supply and farmers were attracted by jobs in the city.

Declining water supply and drought have added to farmers’ woes, forcing the country to rely more on imports to meet domestic food demand, according to Lee McIntire, chief executive officer of CH2M Hill Cos., an Englewood, Colorado-based company that provides water-treatment and irrigation services.

Consumption of pork in China, the world’s biggest, doubled in the past two decades and demand for chicken quadrupled, USDA data show. That helped U.S. farmers whose income is predicted by the government to climb to a record $94.7 billion this year on exports. The U.S. is the top shipper of wheat, corn and soybeans.

Food Prices

Food-cost inflation in China accelerated to 14.4 percent in June, the fastest pace since July 2008. The central bank has raised interest rates three times this year, and boosted banks’ reserve requirements nine times since November to a record level, as it grapples to contain price increases.

China sold 27.5 million tons of corn from state stockpiles to slow price gains in 2010, ANZ said in a report on June 6, citing, an industry researcher owned by China Grain Reserves Corp., manager of the nation’s grain reserves. The nation’s total stockpiles were estimated by the USDA to be 51.3 million tons on Sept. 30.

The corn harvest may increase by 2.4 percent to an all-time high of 181.5 million tons this year, according to the China National Grain & Oils Information Center today.

“If the Chinese are buying, probably they know something about their production that we don’t,” Abbassian said in an interview from Italy yesterday. “I cannot speculate on that.”

Argentine Corn

China may also be planning to purchase supplies from Argentina, the second-largest shipper after the U.S. The country approved imports from the Latin American nation after concluding an agreement on quality inspections, state-controlled researcher said July 7. No purchases have been confirmed.

Expanding demand from China may tighten global stockpiles expected to drop 4.3 percent to 115.66 million tons before the 2012 harvests, the lowest level in five years, as production trails demand for a third straight year, the USDA said yesterday.

“We see upside risk to corn exports to China,” said Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in a report. Anecdotal evidence over the past weeks signals purchases for 2011-2012 may already exceed the new 2 million-ton USDA forecast, it said.

While production in China continues to grow, it’s still not keeping pace with demand, said Michael Creed, an agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank.

“China is no longer fully self-sufficient,” he said in an interview from Melbourne yesterday. “We will see more Chinese activity in the corn market over the coming years.”

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