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2019 a year of relative dairy price stability – but with the uncertainty of Brexit

EU volumes edging up

While the USDEC graph on the right indicates continued slower global milk output growth as far as January, more recent production trends are showing the early stages of a pick-up.

This, combined with the uncertainty of the Brexit situation (see more on Brexit below), is influencing markets towards greater caution.

EU milk deliveries for 2018 were up 0.9% only, and December was actually 1% down on December 2017.  The vagaries of weather during the year put pressure on most of the main milk producing countries, with fodder shortages and rising feed costs moderating supplies.

Dutch milk deliveries continue to be impacted by the herd restrictions related to phosphates implemented since last year.  January output was back over 5%, while production for the calendar year was down 2.9%.

French milk deliveries to the 9th week of the year (last week of February) were up 0.3% compared to the same week last year.  This is the first time that production exceeds the same week in the prior year since last August.  However, it leaves national output still well below the 5-year average, as has been the trend for practically all of 2018 (see graph right).
The French milk output for the full calendar year 2018 were 0.2% down on 2017.

Source: France Agrimer

German output had also been depressed relative to 2017 since August 2018, but because it had been more expansive in the first half of the year, the annual output figure for 2018 was 1.7% higher than 2017.  After the more recent dip, production has now come to match last year’s in the third week of February.

Together, the Netherlands, France and Germany account for over 46% of all of the EU’s milk output – the trends in those strong dairy countries therefore determines the trend for the whole of the EU.

Source: ZMB

Other important production countries are already in a strong upward trend, namely the UK (+0.2% for the full year, but 2.5% for the second half of February), Denmark (+2% for December) and Poland (+2.6% for the full calendar year, and +2.8% for December).

Source: EU MMO

Global supplies also picking up

Estimates suggest that global collections have started to recover, albeit relatively modestly.  Global output is believed to be up 0.4% for January.

Within this, the US January output is estimated to be up 0.5% – a very much more modest rate than increases earlier in 2018.

New Zealand January supplies were up a massive 7.7% – albeit in comparison with a much weaker January 2018.  The June to December 2018 period, which includes both the trough and peak of the NZ season, was up 4.4%.

The short-term outlook in New Zealand is for continued output growth, weather permitting.  However, regulatory restrictions related to climate change and the environment will likely limit longer term expansion.

Australian production in 2018 has been beggared by a succession of drought and floods.  For January 2019, it is down a whopping 11% compared to the same month last year.  For the full year todate, this is down 5.8%.

Source: USDEC

 

Source: Ornua

Demand strong in N Asia and China, stable to weak elsewhere

Demand continues to grow strongly in North Asia.  Cream, cheese and liquid milk imports were weaker, but but were offset by strong butter and powder volumes with WMP particularly strong. After a sluggish Q2/Q3 period, Q4 imports were exceptionally strong. Jan imports have continued to grow steadily.

Chinese imports spefically have soared in January, and reflect two main things: first, the trade war with the US, and second the fact that the use of the NZ tariff free import quotas for WMP tend to be front loaded to the earliest part of the year.

 

Source: CLAL

In South East Asia, 2018 saw higher levels of imports, driven by strong SMP demand (no doubt boosted by low prices), WMP and whey.  On the other hand, imports of butter and cheese fell.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), 2018 saw a limited recovery in import levels after a depressed 2017 – again, price levels being the influential factor.  The first quarter of 2018 was the strongest, and imports eased thereafter.  Butter imports were down, with SMP and cheese up slightly, and WMP also on the up.

In the Western world, EU domestic demand has been quiet, cheese and butter growth sluggish.  Domestic SMP consumption has been weaker, but exports have increased strongly.  Domestic WMP consumption has also increased.

In the US and North America generally, cheese consumption has held up well in 2018.  Butter demand had eased, but has recovered towards year end.  Domestic consumption and exports of SMP are weak.

Oil prices and affordability of dairy product prices

The export earnings of oil producing countries have been affected by relatively low oil prices in recent months.  Since the end of 2018, prices have dropped from around US$ 80 to around US$60-65, dropping even to US$50 in January.

Lower oil revenues affect the ability of some emerging countries to afford food imports, including dairy products, and so there is always a positive correlation between high oil prices and strong demand for dairy products, leading to higher dairy products.  The opposite is happening at the moment.

That said, lower dairy prices for much of 2018, and easier butter prices since the history busting highs of 2017, have made products more affordable.

Source: oilprice.com

EU dairy prices in a lull

Since the beginning of 2019, we have seen a renewed pick up in butter prices which had been easing through much of 2018.  In the last couple of months, however just as SMP prices were picking up in earnest, butter prices have lost ground.

EU average SMP prices seem to have plateaued around €1910/t, while spots have not been able to lift above €2000.

WMP prices have continued to firm steadily since the beginning of the year to reach an average of €2870/t.  Cheddar cheese has also been inching up to €3270/t, benefiting from Brexit-related stock piling.

Whey powder prices have been hovering since early January between €890/t and €850/t (currently €860/t), with both average prices and spots easing in most recent times.

Based on EU MMO data

 

Source: INTL FCStone

Dairy returns – most indicators stable to easier

The table below tracks the returns from the main indicators available, from EU MMO average and raw milk spot prices, to the EU average dairy product spot prices, to the Ornua PPI and the GDT auction of 5th March (next one is on next Tuesday 19thMarch).

Most European based indicators would return a stable to easier milk price equivalent, while the GDT, which was on its 7thconsecutive uptick on 5th March, was well up, but from low levels.

That said, the improved GDT prices since early December have led Fonterra to revise upwards their forecast milk price for the 2018/19 season to between NZ$6.30 and 6.60 (26.28 to 27.54c/l), with a dividend of 15 to 25 cents in addition – a total payout of up to 28.58c/l.  Not great, but a major improvement on earlier forecast.

Sources: EU MMO, INTL FCStone, Ornua, GDT

Source: GDT

Brexit – new tariffs would damage Irish exports competitiveness in case of No Deal

Not a lot to say about Brexit, other than the British Parliament has this week successively voted against the Withdrawal Agreement agreed last December between the UK and the EU (including Backstop), against a “No-Deal” Brexit, and last night in favour of looking for a postponement of the 29th March exit date.

Voting against the “No Deal” is well and good, but in the absence of a deal – and the Parliament has voted against the only deal on the table – the potential remains for the UK to crash out on 29th March or later if a delay is granted.  The likely length of the delay is unclear – UK wants short, EU wants longer, but both have implications which are well documented in media reports, so I won’t go into it.

Importantly, the British Government have published a set of import tariffs they would be implementing in the event of a “No Deal” Brexit.  For a number of products – not just food products – the tariffs are set at zero.  For many products, including food products, they are set at WTO levels.  However, for a number of food sectors, the tariffs are set at a variety of levels, mostly less than WTO tariffs.

Should a “No Deal” Brexit arise, the tariffs would apply to all imports of those products into the UK, regardless of provenance – putting Irish and, say, US or NZ imports into the UK in the same situation, but making Irish exports to the UK significantly less competitive.

Dairy specific tariffs are proposed by the UK government for two dairy products only for which all imports from anywhere would face those tariffs:

  • Cheddar €221/t (normal WTO tariff is €1671/t) – the new UK tariff for Cheddar is equivalent to 2.26c/l
  • Butter €605/t (normal WTO tariff is €1896/t) – UK tariff for butter alone is equivalent to 2.6c/l – note this does not allow for SMP tariff, which would be WTO level, and would add substantially to this.

The uncertainty around Brexit, the yo-yo effect on Sterling and the stockpiling which has boosted demand in recent months but could depress it even in the case of a Brexit postponement or deal, all have created greater caution on milk prices by all milk purchasers around Europe, including Ireland.

Trade and farmer purchases of new season fertiliser stock pre-Xmas particularly were significantly back on the previous year as nitrogen prices had ratcheted up pretty steeply from mid-August 2018 onwards.

Read More

 

IFA President Joe Healy has acknowledged the announcement by the Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed that capacity in lairage facilities in Cherbourg will increase to accommodate an additional 400 calves per day. However, he said more spaces are needed urgently.

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EU supplies down in early 2019

French milk supplies were down -3.1% in week 4 of 2019 (see graph right) and (most recent monthly figure available) down 3.7% in November 18 compared to November 17.
This is the continuation of an ongoing trend towards significantly lower output compared to previous year since the first week of August 2018.  Also, output has been consistently below the 5-year average (yellow line in graph below) since almost this time last year.

Source: France Agrimer

German milk output has also been below year-earlier for almost all of the same period (from August 2018 todate).

Between them, France and Germany account for 37% of all the milk produced in the EU 28.

Dutch milk production has fallen 2.92% in the January to December period according to ZuivelNL, the Dutch dairy industry organisation.  This is due to the restriction on the national dairy herd imposed to reduce phosphate output.  Dutch milk supplies account for a further 9.4% of EU supplies.

Source: ZMB

UK milk supplies have been increasing in recent months, rising above 2017/18 output since November.

December 2018 UK output was up 1.7%, but the April to year end output was level for GB, and up 2.3% for NI.  The UK accounts for 9.6% of EU supplies (see pie chart below).

Source: AHDB Dairy

Source: EU Commission

More dynamic countries from a milk production perspective include Denmark (up 2.5% for the full year, and 2% for December); Poland (up 2.6% for the full year, up 3% for November) and of course Ireland (up 4.3% for the full year, up 23.2% for the month of December).

Poland accounts for 7.3% of overall EU supplies, with Ireland at 4.5%, and Denmark at 4%.

So, with almost 50% of the EU’s milk output in negative growth, the EU’s milk production has been restrained in recent months, with November output down 0.8% and predictions that this trend will likely continue into spring 2019.

Global supplies: a mixed picture, but flat at back end

Global milk supplies were estimated to be up 1% for 2018, but flat at year end because the EU, Argentina and Australia are all well down.

US output was up moderately, 0.8% for November (no more recent figures due to Government shutdown) and +1.2% for the January to November period.

New Zealand production continued to increase strongly, by 2.3% for the year, and 4.4% in December alone.  However, restrictions from environmental legislation enacted by the current Labour government will likely reduce scope for growth in the medium to longer term.

Source: AHDB Dairy

Intervention stocks depleted to almost nothing – with rising sales price

Almost all the over 400,000t of SMP sold into intervention since 14/15 have been sold out, with recent prices keeping pace with fresh feed grade prices of around €1660-1670 (German and Dutch, 6th Feb quote).  The latest minimum price adjudicated for sale of intervention powder was €1622/t on 2nd February.  As the range of bids was up to €1710, some product will have sold for a higher price up to that maximum.

Remarkably, the 3,500t which were left to sell did not find buyers, only 584 tonnes were sold.  Spain, the UK, Slovakia and Finland are the countries where this left-over product is stored.  All Irish stock has been sold.

For all intents and purposes, the intervention stores are now as good as empty, and with restrained fresh milk supplies, the price of powder will hopefully continue to firm.

Based on EU MMO data

Dairy prices stable to firmer

The firming of powder and butter prices we have seen in recent weeks has continued in a more modest way.

The nominal Irish product mix whose returns we follow on the basis of the EU Milk Market Observatory weekly average price reports has improved by around 1.3 cents per litre from early January to early February.

Based on the EU MMO average prices quoted for 3rd February, the representative Irish product mix would return gross 36.1c/l before processing costs.  Assuming the deduction of a nominal 5c/l for processing costs, this would be equivalent to 31.1c/l + VAT, or 32.78c/l incl VAT.  This is around 0.5c/l more than the average of the FJ League for milk purchased in the month of December.

Based on EU MMO data

 

Spot quotes, which had stalled and eased in recent days, are also firming again very slightly for SMP and whey in early February (table below).

Source: INTL FCStone

Returns – improvements should help hold milk prices in short term

Most of the indicators we follow on the market place have improved by 1c/l or more in the last month to month and a half.  This reflects continuous improvement in powder prices (especially SMP) and while butter prices had been easing for several months, they have been firming slightly in recent days/weeks.

The average price paid by co-ops for December milk was, based on the Farmers’ Journal milk league, 30.67c/l + VAT.  The below suggests that this would be comfortably sustainable based on current (late Jan to early Feb) returns as illustrated by a variety of Irish, EU and international indicators.

Sources: EU MMO, INTL FCStone, Ornua, GDT

CL/IFA/12th February 2019

Speaking after a meeting with UK farm leaders in London ahead of the crucial vote on Brexit in the House of Commons, IFA President Joe Healy said the clear view of farm leaders was that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be a disaster for farmers in Ireland & the UK and must be avoided.

Read More


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