Global edible oil prices near their peak, but retreat may be slow – analysts

FILE PHOTO: A mini tractor grabber collects palm oil fruits at a plantation in Pulau Carey, Malaysia
FILE PHOTO: A mini tractor grabber collects palm oil fruits at a plantation in Pulau Carey, Malaysia, January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

March 24, 2021

By Mei Mei Chu and Gavin Maguire

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Global edible oil prices are nearing their peak but may be slow to decline to previous levels due to low stocks, a slow recovery in output and higher global use in biofuel production, leading analysts said on Wednesday.

Major vegetable oil prices such as palm oil and soybean oil have likely already peaked at multi-year highs in 2021, lifted by a cocktail of production hiccups, recovering food consumption and an upbeat outlook for biofuel demand, leading industry analysts said at the Virtual Palm and Lauric Oils Price Outlook Conference.

But a constrained recovery in palm oil production due to an enduring labour shortage in Malaysia, and a slowdown in soybean oil output in China due to stalled soymeal demand growth, will prevent prices from falling too steeply.

Graphic: Global edible oil prices nearing their top – analysts – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/azgvodyaopd/EdibleOilsvsLGOMarch242021.png

Malaysian benchmark palm oil futures in mid-March topped 4,000 ringgit ($968.76) a tonne for the first time since 2008 and is trading at an average of 3,638 ringgit ($883.01) per tonne so far this year. It averaged at 2,700 ringgit a tonne last year.

“We are in a bubble, and the bubble will pop, but I don’t expect prices to collapse” said James Fry, the chairman of commodities consultancy LMC International said.

Fry forecasts Malaysian palm oil futures to fall to 3,300 ringgit ($799.22) by the end of 2021. Mistry pegged prices to hold at 3,300 ringgit until June, before bottoming out at 2,700 ringgit ($653.91) around September.

“For 2021, my (production) estimate has been trimmed from 20 million tonnes to 19.6 million tonnes in Malaysia and from 49 million to 48 million for Indonesia,” Dorab Mistry, director of Indian consumer goods company Godrej International, said.

World palm oil supply is expected to expand by 3 million tonnes in 2021 after suffering a decline of 2.5 million tonnes last year, Mistry added.

Graphic: Global edible oil output, demand, imports & stocks – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/bdwpkmzwlpm/GlobalEbileOilSupplyetc.png

The modest recovery in global palm oil supply will limit the price decline, said Thomas Mielke, head of Hamburg-based analyst firm Oil World.

The higher palm oil prices have rationed food demand in price sensitive markets like India, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s biodiesel agenda will spur demand from the fuel sector, the analysts said.

Palm oil, the world’s cheapest and most widely used edible oil, is found in everything from biscuits to biofuel.

Mielke pegged biodiesel production to rise by 2.2 million tonnes this year, with 17.9 million tonnes of palm oil likely to be used for biodiesel and Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO).

“‘B’ in 2021 is very important because it stands for Biodiesel and Biden…. It has completely transformed the scenario. People are as bullish as hell that green energy will take over,” Mistry said.

($1 = 4.1290 ringgit)

(Reporting by Mei Mei Chu, Gavin Maguire and Mai Nguyen; Editing by Marguerita Choy)