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Prices fall to new lows as sellers hope for a rebound

June 29, 2022

NPX 20/22 fell to its lowest price level this crop year in the global container market the week ending Tuesday on increased selling interest.

Stratamarkets assessed the item at $2.59/lb FAS based on three verified trades. The assessed price is down 10 cents from last week and down $1.46 from its crop-year high of $4.05/lb FAS on September 28, 2021.

“Especially in the calls, it sounds like a lot of those guys sat on it and are now trying to sell,” said a California packer on Tuesday, who also has NPX 20/22 left to sell. “It sounds like there is more available than the industry thought there would be early in the season.”

The NPX 20/22 premium to NPX 23/25 fell 4 cents to 16 cents on Tuesday, further evidence that supply of the item could be more than sufficient for prompt demand. The premium hit a high of 57 cents in January.

Most other assessed Nonpareil kernel prices also fell during the week while other assessed items stayed flat or showed marginal gains or losses. The Stratamarkets Almond Index shed 1 cent to $2.09/lb FAS, 16 cents below last year’s mark.

A current narrative in the market is that sellers generally refrained from selling larger Nonpareil kernel items early in the crop year, hoping for higher prices later. Some of that higher-quality supply could wind up in the carry-out if sellers cannot sell it by July 31, the end of the current crop year.

Europe, Middle East

European demand for almonds weakened during the week with current crop STD5 trading a handful of times in the $1.70-$1.72/lb FAS range.

Current crop STD5 prices have sunk below the $1.75-$1.80/lb FAS range sustained for several weeks through April, May, and most of June. Stratamarkets assessed STD5 on Tuesday at $1.71/lb FAS, its lowest level this crop year and down 21 cents from its year-ago price.

Traders and buyers said the recent price declines have kept large volume buyers out of the market as they sit on adequate stocks and continue to receive delayed containers. A slight recovery in the euro to just over $1.06 against the U.S. dollar on Monday did little to incentivize almond buying in the region.

“Most [buyers] are waiting,” said a German buyer. “If there’s an opportunity to buy at $1.70, I think that’s a good price.”

One U.K.-based trader said he expected packers with large volumes of SSR-grade material to “bite the bullet” and start to sell it into the STD5 market due to the need to clear storage space in time for the new crop.

“This is what a lot of packers will start to do,” he said. “They need to free up bins but don’t forget they also need cash. When the harvest starts, workers need to be paid.”

A second U.K. trader said some packers were prioritizing current crop sales over new crop sales and that offers are negotiable.

“But the majority of packers I speak to claim they are selling at a loss at the moment and are holding off until the objective estimate at the beginning of July,” he said.

Asia

Demand from China appeared to increase, particularly for new crop inshell. With inshell prices at crop year-lows, buyers in China have determined that now is a good time to buy and are bidding for new crop NPIS, MIS, and Winters and Price inshell, a packer said.

Buyers in China typically purchase significant volumes of inshell from Australia. They could be finding supply from Australia tighter than usual given weather-related damage to some inshell production in Australia.

“China is going to have to come in heavy at the front end of the [new] crop year, which is exactly what California needs,” said a Stanislaus County packer, adding that he’s received more unsolicited bids from companies in China in recent days.

However, a trader in China said ample supplies of Californian almonds remain in stock within the country, stifling potential sales of new crop.

“I offered some [U.S.] inshell but no one was interested,” the trader said. “Sales have been no good for the last two months.”

In India, current crop inshell demand appeared inconsistent with trades verified in a wide range, from $1.65/lb FAS to $1.81/lb FAS after normalizing all trades to the assessed unsized, FAS price.

The assessed NPIS price improved marginally, climbing 2 cents to $1.75/lb FAS. The NPISEM premium to NPX 27/30 climbed to 18 cents due to the NPX 27/30 price decline.

An agent in India said he brokered transactions for 30 containers of inshell on Thursday and Friday. A packer in California said he also saw more demand. Current price levels could be sparking it.

“We’ve seen more interest on current crop inshell from India than in the last 40 days,” the packer said.

The assessed new crop NPIS prices rose above the current crop NPIS price for the first time this crop year – perhaps underscoring the softness in the current crop market rather than strengthening new crop demand. New crop NPIS had been trading at a discount or parity to current crop in recent weeks.

“A few traders are buying selectively for new crop, but most importers are waiting for the new crop and shipment numbers to decide for September/October purchases,” said an Indian trader.

US

Some buyers in the U.S. were asking sellers to postpone shipments to work through current inventory, multiple sellers said. U.S. demand appeared to be primarily focused on the late Q4 2022 and Q1 2023 periods.

“They don’t have needs for the nearby, that is for sure,” said one California packer.

Another packer painted a different picture, saying, “domestic is probably our best market right now.”

In recent months, California sellers have shown an increased interest to sell to U.S. buyers: It allows packers to avoid the challenges of sending containers overseas. However, some U.S. buyers have been trying to leverage that advantageous position with bid levels sellers view as below market value, according to some packers. 

In recent years, U.S. shipments had been steadily increasing year-on-year. No longer.

U.S shipments for the 10 reported months this crop year are down 4.2% compared with the same period last year, marking the first time domestic shipments declined for the period since the 2015-2016 crop year.

The declining domestic shipments and soft demand from U.S. buyers is unusual, particularly at current price levels.

“The U.S. market to me is the one that sets off red flashing alarm bells,” said a California-based trader. “Consumption is bad. The question is, when does it bounce back?”

Logistics

Some market sources have pointed to easing congestion at the Port of Oakland as a reason for better container shipments in May, adding that the increased rate is likely to extend into June.

However, sources in Europe said that logistics problems remain in destination ports.

Container vessels are still queuing to enter the northern German ports of Hamburg and Bremerhaven, according to a buyer in the country. The latest Kiel Trade Indicator update, which tracks maritime traffic, shows that more than 2% of global container capacity is stuck in the North Sea, unable to load or unload.

“If you don’t have a problem in Oakland, you have a problem in other ports that are receiving goods,” the German buyer said.

Looking Ahead

On July 8, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) is scheduled to release its objective forecast of California’s 2022-2023 almond crop. The forecast could prompt selling interest.

“Growers are holding,” said a second Stanislaus County packer on Tuesday. “Their last hope is the July number.”

The Almond Board of California is scheduled to publish its June 2022 position report on July 12. Market participants expect record June shipments.

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