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ECONOMY | 01-09-2022 01:49

China steps up soybean buying from US, Brazil, Argentina as prices fall

China is stepping up soybean imports to meet rising demand ahead of a seasonally strong period for consumption.

China, the world’s biggest soybean buyer, is stepping up imports to meet rising demand ahead of a seasonally strong period for consumption.

Chinese firms have booked at least 40 cargoes from the United States, Brazil and Argentina in the past two weeks alone, according to people familiar with the transactions. The purchases are to take advantage of improved processing margins, and to rebuild stockpiles ahead of Chinese festivals that run from the autumn through to the Lunar New Year, said the people, who asked not to be identified as they’re not authorised to speak publicly.

Most of the cargoes are for loading in September and October, although some have been booked for next year, they said. Soybeans are used to make vegetable oil, and are an important source of protein in animal feed.

The buying spree is likely to support soybean futures in Chicago, which have fallen by about US$3 a bushel since hitting a high of over US$17 per bushel in May after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine drove up crop prices. The purchases will also help soak up some of the record harvest forecasted for the US.

Chinese purchases slowed in the first half of the year amid negative margins for crushing beans into meal and oil, cutting inventories before a busy season for demand. That reduced forward coverage and forced companies to seek more supply, according to Victor Martins, senior risk manager at HedgePoint Global Markets in Brazil.

Chinese firms “are now increasing their long position, in order to lock in better forward crushing margins,” Martins said. The purchases are also “a clear signal that China is hedging against a weather issue in Brazil.”

North American soybeans are currently the world’s cheapest and will remain so until mid-January, when the Brazilian harvest picks up. But there is a risk that a third consecutive La Niña weather event strikes and the crop there once again disappoints like last year.

The US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday announced export sales activity of 167,000 metric tons of soybeans to China, bringing the total sales for the week to 431,000 tons. 

Overnight, China bought two more US Gulf soybeans cargoes for delivery in October and November and another two Pacific Northwest port cargoes for October and December, according to Martins.

by Tarso Veloso & Alfred Cang, Bloomberg

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