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Prices rise as sellers wait for more improvement

September 7, 2022

Prices showed modest gains in the global almond market the week ending Tuesday for the second consecutive stretch on steadier demand, bolstering sellers ahead of the first position report for the new crop year.

Nearly all assessed prices leveled or climbed up to 5 cents during a trading week shortened by the Labor Day holiday in the U.S. The exceptions were NPX 27/30, NPX 20/22, and CTS 27/30, all of which showed incremental declines.

The Stratamarkets Almond Index increased by 3 cents to $2.09/lb. Though trade was thin throughout the August 30 to September 6 assessment period, the price moves encouraged sellers.

“You don’t want to call it too soon, but it feels like it bottomed out about 10 days ago,” said a California packer on Tuesday.

“It’s buyers getting back from vacation in Europe, the Middle East starting to draw down their inventories, India realizing it’s got to reload for post-Diwali arrivals. Seeing a little bit of pull come back has helped a bit and you can see it in the market.”

STD5 and SSR

The assessed STD5 price rose 3 cents on the week to $1.67/lb FAS. Prices for California Type and Butte Padre SSR-grade items also increased by 3-4 cents on the week.

European demand for processing-grade almonds remained light, with some buyers insisting they completed their purchases for Christmas earlier in the season and are in no rush to cover. Limited offers for STD5 current crop and new crop edged higher to $1.60/lb FAS and $1.71/lb FAS respectively.

“Offers are higher for both current and new crop September but in both cases, no buyer in sight,” said a Spain-based broker Currency exchange rates continue to crimp European almond demand, with the euro at $0.9942 against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday, having hit a fresh 20-year low the previous day after Russia cut off Nord Stream 1, its main gas pipeline into Europe.

A source at a Spanish processor said the exchange rate had brought the cost of importing STD5s into Spain only marginally below the cost of buying local Unselected Valencias, a broadly equivalent processing grade.

A Spain-based trader said Unselected Valencias were currently available at around Eur 4.15/kg DDP. According to Stratamarkets data, new crop STD5 purchased at $1.70/lb FAS would translate to Eur 4.08/kg DDP based on current exchange rates and 3.5% duty.

“But Spanish almonds have a logistical advantage,” he said.

However, other sources said they believe demand from Europe could improve soon.

The California packer referred to earlier said European buyers are largely uncovered beginning mid-November. And a U.K.-based trader noted demand from Europe for product shipping in 2023, adding that the recent increase in STD5 and SSR-grade prices was partly the result of difficulties securing offers from sellers, many of whom are reluctant to sell at current prices. 

“There is interest from Europe to cover for next year, but obviously it’s extremely hard to get anything out of California for that,” the U.K.-based trader said on Tuesday. “They’re in no hurry, either.”

Old crop STD5 traded at $1.55/lb FAS, roughly flat to the prior week. Buying interest was seen at the same level at the close of the period.

Inshell

Inshell prices improved as trade activity slowed. Reported trades for sized and unsized NPIS and INIS dropped to 20 during the assessment week from 24 the prior period.

Assessed, unsized NPIS and INIS prices gained 2 cents on the week. The NPIS price premium to INIS remained unchanged at 23 cents.

The NPIS price premium to NPX 27/30 increased 4 cents on the week, from 15 cents to 19 cents. The INIS price differential to INX 23/25 contracted 2 cents, from 2 cents to parity.

Higher local prices on the back of increasing Diwali demand are boosting offers for imported cargoes, with one California packer saying importers in India are likely keeping a keen eye on how local sales develop before restocking.

“Since [Diwali] is in October, that’s going to start happening right now,” he added.

An India-based trader said several packers appeared to be holding back from the market because they believe current levels were still too low despite the recent firming.

He added that the upcoming August 2022 position report, scheduled for release on Friday by the Almond Board of California, may also be a reason for delayed selling interest. The report is the first for the 2022-2023 crop year.

“I think they’re anticipating a favorable number, which may show smaller [Californian] shipments to India,” he said.

Sources noted less demand for INIS from India this year compared with the same period last year. They said INIS demand will likely improve if NPIS prices increase.

Extra No. 1 and Supreme

Extra and Supreme-grade kernel prices moved in mixed directions with some sellers reporting increased interest from the Middle East as inventory levels there declined.

NPX 23/25 showed the strongest gain, rising 4 cents on the week. However, the price increase was the result of firmer bids as no trades for the item were reported during the assessment week.

NPX 20/22 showed the steepest loss, falling 6 cents based on declining offers. No trades were reported for that item, either.

Japan remained covered for Q4 but not for calendar year 2023, sources said. The unusually low value of the yen against the greenback continued to crimp demand from Japan, sources said. The yen is currently at a 24-year low against the dollar.

Though there were reports of increased demand from the Middle East, other sources said trading activity for Extra and Supreme-grade kernels was limited, with many sellers not willing to show their hand and buyers content to wait until more concrete information on crop size and quality is available.

Some kernel buyers from the Middle East and Europe are understood to be keen on purchasing NPX sizes above 27/30, but packers are wary of offering these in any significant volume until they can be sure that the harvest will cover demand.

“Both sides seem to have withdrawn from the fray,” said the U.K.-based trader. “We’re at the early stages of the harvest now and yields are all over the place right now depending on where you’re located.”

He added that yield estimates so far range from unchanged from last year to down by 20-25%.

One Stanislaus County packer explained that a geographical split had emerged in the offers being shown by packers,  with those based in southern California most active in offering on expectations of a decent crop. Meanwhile, sellers from the central and northern regions are largely off the market or offering in limited volume.

“We’ve been in contact with people that we normally don’t do business with, which is a sign that they’re not getting offers from their regular suppliers,” he said. “I don’t know how California can get into a more comfortable sold position if a lot of the packers aren’t participating.”

Larger Nonpareil kernels continue to command significant premiums to smaller kernels. The NPX 23/25 price premium to STD5 increased 1 cent on the week from 73 cents to 74 cents.

Early sizing data from the new crop shows Nonpareil-variety kernels peaking at 27/30, according to sources – a normal size for the variety. However, the same sizing data has shown an increase in Nonpareil-variety kernels size 34/36 and smaller compared with previous years, and a decrease in Nonpareil kernels size 23/25 and larger, sources said.

The size of Independence kernels also appears to be peaking at 27/30, which is smaller than normal for Independence. Size and quality can change substantially as the harvest progresses.

The early Independence sizing data comes amid reports from packers that the size of their Independence crops appear to be larger this year compared with last year and reports from buyers in India that they’re seeing an increase in the number  of offers from California for unsized INIS and INIS 27/30.

Spanish crop

Initial indications from Spain’s harvest is that there could be limited availability of larger sizes in the new crop due to frost damage that occurred in the early spring combined with some extremely high temperatures registered in the later stages of nut maturation this summer.

The Spain-based trader said local Mediterranean buyers were experiencing difficulties in sourcing the popular 18/20 and 20/22 sizes.

“Sizes are going to be concentrated in 23/25, so larger sizes are going to be a headache to deliver,” the trader said. “Buyers are already realizing that and switching to Californian varieties. And if sellers have noticed that, they are probably hiding their offers.”