Before the plunge in commodities late in the week, top executives from Cargill, Cofco, Viterra, and Scoular said this week at the FT Commodities Global Summit that a "mini-supercycle" in agricultural commodities could be on the horizon, boosted by China demand and increasing use for biofuels.
These execs forecasted corn, soybeans, and wheat markets will remain robust over the next two to four years.
"We certainly see a mini supercycle," said David Mattiske, chief executive of Viterra, majority-owned by Glencore, told the FT Commodities Global Summit.
"We're in a demand-driven environment with the themes of a growing population, growing wealth, people consuming more. And added into that we've got increased demand for plant-based fuel," Mattiske said.
Taking a look at the S&P GSCI Agriculture Index, a sub-index of the S&P GSCI which provides a broad basket of wheat, corn, soybeans, coffee, sugar, cocoa, and cotton, has been on an absolute tear since the virus pandemic began, up currently 56.6% but down 15% from an eight-year high.
Higher commodity prices are great news for farmers who can boost incomes and reinvest into operations. Many farmers have seen their net incomes deteriorate over the last decade. But rising agriculture prices mean higher food inflation will hit low-income countries the hardest first, then ripple across the world.
Back in December, SocGen's resident market skeptic Albert Edwards shared with the world why he is starting to panic about soaring food prices. And since that was before food prices really erupted amid broken supply chains, trillions in fiscal stimulus, and exploding commodity costs, we can only imagine the sheer terror he must feel today. He has noted social instabilities have begun around soaring food inflation.
According to the latest United Nations index of world food costs, it climbed for a 12th straight month in May, its longest stretch in a decade, rising to the highest in nearly a decade, heightening concerns over bulging grocery bills.
Alex Sanfeliu, head of Cargill's world trading unit, said the bumper harvests for corn and soybeans in the US and Brazil means that supercycles in grains and oilseeds will be shorter in the past. Though he predicted an upward swing in ag prices could be sustained for two to four years. "The characteristics of the supercycle are there," he added.
Last year, China imported a record amount of soybeans and grains from the US as it rebuilt its swine population. The US was among the largest beneficiary of the buying. China is expected to continue purchasing US farm goods this year as it needs to "restock" after the pandemic shock.
Marcelo Martins, head of grains and oilseeds at Cofco International, the trading arm of the Chinese state conglomerate, said supply imbalances around the world would persist due to some areas that sustained poor harvest. But, he warned, "[The supply deficit] is here to stay."
As we've previously noted, parts of South America and the Western half of the US are in a drought, affecting future harvest yields. Especially in the US, a megadrought is crushing farmers as reservoirs dry up, with many unable to water their crops.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration set the 2030 greenhouse gas pollution target aimed at increasing biofuels - this means the agricultural product is being diverted for fuel rather than food, driving up prices.
Paul Maas, chief executive of US agricultural trader Scoular, said biofuels drive "unprecedented" demand for soyabean and soya oil prices. As countries reduce their carbon footprint, many turn to the food supply for answers to reduce fossil fuel usage by mixing biofuels into petrol blends.
"The increased demand is real and we're on the front end of seeing how that all plays out," said Maas.
While there are several factors top execs point to for higher future ag prices, prices have fallen in the last couple of months and may continue to correct.
Gary McGuigan, head of global trade at Archer Daniels Midland, added some caution to the mini supercycle, indicating significant uncertainties around China's 2021 demand.
Perhaps this is more evidence that the Fed's illusionary narrative of "transitory" inflation is tearing apart at the seams as food prices are likely to remain elevated for some time due to the various demand dynamics mentioned above.