Food inflation fears abate as prices of cooking oils and grains plummet

Prices have gone down because of increased supply and investors reducing their bets on futures markets. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE (BLOOMBERG) - Worries over surging global food costs are easing as prices of everything from cooking oils to wheat and corn slump to the lowest levels in months on increasing physical supplies and as investors cut their bullish bets on futures markets.

Palm oil, the world's most consumed edible oil, has plunged more than 45 per cent from its record close in April to the weakest in a year, while wheat has tumbled over 35 per cent from an all-time high in March. Corn has dropped about 30 per cent from its peak for the year.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February choked supplies of grains and sunflower oil from the Black Sea, worsening existing shortages caused by extreme weather and supply chain chaos. This sparked fears of a global food crisis, which would hit poorer nations especially hard. Prices are now back to levels before the invasion.

Investors have been reducing their net bullish positions in US markets as interest rates increase and the threat of recession looms larger. Their bets on soya bean oil have dropped to the smallest in 23 months, those on wheat are the lowest in four months, and on corn the smallest in eight months.

Palm oil tumbled by the exchange limit in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday (July 6), losing 10 per cent by the midday break to RM3,757 a tonne, and leading the losses in farm commodities. Soya bean oil, corn and wheat extended the sharp declines posted in Chicago on Tuesday.

The slump in palm oil comes as top producer Indonesia ramps up exports after easing a ban, inventories rise in Malaysia and production enters the seasonal high cycle. The plunge in fossil fuel costs will also cut demand for crop-based energy such as biodiesel.

Large losses in crude oil, a plunge in soya bean oil and escalating palm oil export and production supply "are hanging heavily" over the market, said Dr Sathia Varqa, owner of Palm Oil Analytics in Singapore.

Still, the plunge in prices may spur demand from top importers China and India, helped by lower duties. 

"The good news is that the crude palm oil reference price for Indonesia and Malaysia will be lower for August shipment, triggering a reduction in export taxes," he said.

The huge corn and soya bean crops in the United States still have some way to go before they are assured, and the weather in the coming two months will be crucial. US Department of Agriculture data on Tuesday after the close of trading showed condition ratings for corn and soya bean worsening more than analysts anticipated.

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