More Chinese dine out and schools reopen as normal life resumes

People eat at a restaurant during lunchtime in the business district of Beijing on May 15, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Chinese citizens are gradually returning to normal life with more people dining out and more schools reopening, a trend that will boost demand for everything from meat to cooking oil in the world's top consumer.

In downtown Beijing, restaurant maitre d' Lei Ying said people are slowly coming back, and while they check people's temperatures, there's no need any more for social distancing.

"During weekends, about half the space is occupied as more guests are returning," said Lei, guiding a group of seven to a table.

Traffic jams are back in Beijing during rush hour, while more schools across the country plan to reopen this month and next after over 100 million students, or 40 per cent of the total, already went back, according to the Ministry of Education.

Restarting schools and restaurants is a key driver of demand for poultry and eggs, and closures of school pantries have helped drive egg futures on the Dalian exchange to the lowest in years, according to Li Qiang, chief analyst with Shanghai JC Intelligence Co. Prices of wholesale pork, the staple protein, have fallen for three months in a row on increasing supply and weak demand.

TOO LONG AT HOME

While some people still have concerns about dining out, others have no such qualms.

"We've been staying at home far too long," said Tom Long, a businessman in the southern province of Hunan who's started regularly eating out now life's returning to normal.

It seems big restaurants are as much as 70 per cent occupied, while hawker centres are full, Long said by phone.

Companies are increasing imports of soybeans in anticipation of greater demand. The shipments are coming mostly from Brazil, and could hit a record 10 million tons this month, and stay near that level in June and July, driven by a recovery in hog breeding, according to the China National Grain and Oils Information Center. The US Department of Agriculture sees imports reaching an all-time high of 96 million tons in the coming marketing year.

The large purchases are partly because the slump in the Brazilian currency has made the beans cheaper, and they could mean there will be fewer purchases by China's commercial processors in the final quarter of the year, the peak season for US soybean sales.

Soybean meal demand has also been weak in May, indicating that the hog-breeding recovery may not be as promising as hoped.

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