International meat trade (including Kangaroo!), years of writing and thousands of subscribers, risk management consulting and more – today’s guest really is a jack of all (ag) trades. Simon Quilty, global meat trader and analyst with Global Agritrends is on today’s podcast to take a deeper dive into his risk management background (with tips for operations of all sizes), the background on how he became one of the world’s leading researchers on international protein markets, and more crazy stories that fit his entertaining personality.
Follow along with Simon at the Global Agritrends website.
From the episode: Man punches a kangaroo in the face to rescue his dog
00:00-01:13 = Intro
01:13-11:53 = World Traveler, Lobbyist / From trading the physical to exploring China’s economy
11:54-36:36 = Potential for Ag Markets / China’s 2 speed economy & Hog pressure concerns
36:37-43:10 = Favorites
Find the full episodes here:
Farmers in the Midwest are saying what we’re all thinking – “enough of the rain already!” There has been major rainfall, and even flooding, across most of the Midwest including Michigan, Illinois, and Southern Ohio over the past month, and without a drier outlook over the next week, there’s the potential for planting to be pushed back up against the “prevent plant deadline” in those states. Across the rest of the country, planting is still on a good pace and flat prices week-over-week show little news in the markets. Ethanol production ticked up last week but will need a much larger demand to use up the massive amounts in storage. With exports falling within expectations trade looks to remain calm as we head into Memorial Day weekend and the start of summer.
U.S. Soybean planting, like corn, has continued its good start in most areas except for North Dakota. Bean prices took a big hit on Thursday despite a 22-week high in sales of 1.205 MMT with 738k tonnes going to China. The possibility of increased political tensions as President Trump fired off more tweets criticizing China pulled the markets lower after a good week. Along with Australia’s wanting the WHO to investigate the origins of the coronavirus outbreak, Trump’s tweets are another thing in a long line of issues that could come between the U.S. and China’s phase 1 trade agreement.
Wheat has seen a boost this week as the Russian wheat crop yield appears similar to last year. The excess rain in parts of the US with SRW has lead to some worries about the crop and the possibility of worsening conditions. There has been a pickup in domestic demand as mills around the country are opening back up and demand ramps up. Keep an eye on Russian Wheat as another big cut to their yield would be supportive of U.S. wheat prices along with further weather problems domestically.
There’s been a lot going on in the meats sector – specifically when it comes to COVD-19 impacting American production plants.
COVID-19 has infiltrated America’s meatpacking plants causing them to slow processing speeds, or close all-together… Converting livestock into the cuts that get to your plate requires massive facilities, intensive labor, and working in tight quarters which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to control the spread of a contagious disease. Without the ability to “socially distance”, thousands of plant workers have become ill, some have died, while many others are too afraid to go to work. The repercussions of the Covid-19-related plant disruptions will impact our food system for years to come. Once the smoke clears, owners of large meat packing plants may look to create smaller, regional facilities meaning consumers can expect higher prices, and fewer choices in the coming weeks and months.
Check out more short-term and long-term repercussions in the rest of our blog here.
CFAP Relief Package
The USDA came out with more information this week about the CFAP Relief Package. The CFAP had scheduled payment of 32 cents per bushel from the original CARES Act and a CCC payment of 35 cents per bushel on the lower of 50% of last year’s production or 50% of your unpriced corn on January 15th. That works out to potentially receiving 67 cents on half of last year’s corn crop. The soybeans payment works the same with payments of 45 cents and 50 cents for a potential payment of 95 cents per bushel on 50% of last year’s bean crop. The math is not clear nor why January 15th was chosen, but those are the guidelines. Livestock is also covered in the payment and information on that from the USDA website can be found here. Sign up starts next Tuesday the 26th at your local FSA office. For more information on how to sign up, check out this video.
In 1984, Wendy’s debuted their iconic “Where’s the Beef?” commercial, starring Clara Peller as an old lady demanding more beef on her hamburger. Fast forward 36-years, and Wendy’s is once again asking, “Where’s the beef?”, but this time it’s about the literal beef…. Last week, a survey of online menus revealed 18% of the Wendy’s franchise listed beef items as out of stock – and if the largest fast food chains are being affected by lack of supply, what about your local stores?
The American meat industry is the envy of the world and has evolved over the past few decades into the most productive and efficient system in the world and because of that, consumers give little thought to how meat is produced until their abundant supplies of steaks, burgers and bacon are suddenly at risk. Unfortunately, the structure that delivers so much culinary and economic benefit to American consumers has proven vulnerable to a once in a life-time pandemic.
COVID-19 has infiltrated America’s meatpacking plants causing them to slow processing speeds, or close all-together, and logistically it makes sense. Converting livestock into the cuts that get to your plate requires massive facilities, intensive labor, and working in tight quarters which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to control the spread of a contagious disease. Without the ability to “socially distance”, thousands of plant workers have become ill, some have died, while many others are too afraid to go to work. The repercussions of the Covid-19-related plant disruptions will impact our food system for years to come. Once the smoke clears, owners of large meat packing plants may look to create smaller, regional facilities meaning consumers can expect higher prices, and fewer choices in the coming weeks and months.
In the short-term, slaughter rates have plunged; the number of cattle and hogs slaughtered weekly fell by as much as 40% compared with the same period last year before recovering modestly. For the week ending May 9, hog slaughter was 1,775,000, down from 2,332,000 last year. (USDA)
The sudden drop in slaughter punched a gaping hole in meat supplies which caught end-users off guard, as risk models could not have predicted the Covid-19 Black Swan event. Wholesale beef and pork prices skyrocketed as fast food chains and retailers scrambled to secure supplies: pork bellies priced near $30 cwt at the end of April, traded as much as 600% higher near $220 cwt, and 73% lean ground beef is up more than 330%. There’s no doubt substitution is occurring, but if you’re Wendy’s and your business is selling hamburgers, there is no substitution for ground beef – you either pay up or close your stores.
The long-term impact on supplies is evolving. Plant disruptions are leaving a large number of producers without a destination for their livestock, leading to a steep drop in hog and cattle prices. Out of necessity, animals are being kept on feed longer, and fed slow-grow rations, but bottlenecks are backing up an extraordinary number of animals.
Out of sheer desperation, some farmers are being forced to destroy market-ready animals that have grown too large for modern slaughterhouses to manage. On-farm capacity is also a problem, because finished animals cannot be pushed through the processing system to make space for incoming feeder stock. In addition to putting down market ready animals, chaos in the supply chain is causing farmers to liquidate breeding stock, abort sows and euthanize piglets. The result of this activity will be a tightening supply of animals going forward. Expectations are for hog and cattle slaughter to remain in a pandemic driven slow-down, 15%-20% below kill capacity, for the remainder of 2020.
At the end of the day, we are moving from an oversupply of meat in the U.S. to a period of a persistent undersupply – and the severity of that will be determined by how well the Covid-19 situation is managed. The Covid-19 disruption to the food service industry will continue to be a drag on the meat markets, but thankfully, grocery and retail is picking up some of the slack.
The Covid-19 threat to the food supply chain is a global phenomenon, and not isolated to the U.S. In the big picture, supplies globally are shrinking and there remains a historic global protein deficit as a result of African Swine Flu. With some states domestically and countries abroad opening back up, there is slight hope that the demand will come a little closer to meeting the production of meat, but how long it will take to fully recover is only a guessing game.
PS: don’t forget to check out RCM’s ‘What Moves Commodity Markets’ infographic.
Corn planting continued at a great pace around the country in the last week as weather has stayed favorable in some of the largest corn growing states. Weather looks good into the end of May for planting in most areas which would be bearish for the market. The next USDA report comes out on May 12th which will give some more insight into the supply and demand for the rest of the year. If you’re looking for any positive corn news in the short term, keep an eye out for updates on ethanol production, crude oil demand, and unexpected weather issues.
U.S. Soybean markets are keeping their eyes on Brazil and China as the U.S. continues to battle it out against Brazil for Chinese Soybean purchases. With increased political tensions, record Brazilian exports, and lagging demand, it’s looking like China will struggle to meet the Phase 1 agreement. Soybean planting continued over the week and is off to a great start at 23% planted and with a good weather outlook for the week should continue.
Crude oil storage & oversupply continues to make the market unstable; to help offset that risk, FCM’s have begun to add precautionary measures to reduce and eliminate speculative risk to customers in the front month by restricting to high net worth investors. June crude oil has rallied 269% since its low on April 21 at $6.50, while December crude has rallied 20.4% since its low on April 22nd. This shows that the major risk for prices is in the short run while further off markets have stayed calm. In addition the largest oil ETF, USO had a reverse stock split 1:8 and has diversified the funds exposure out across the curve. USO represents roughly 6% of the oil market with open interest of over 2 million as of May 7.
The government is looking at intervening in the meat packing industry as struggles continue. Foreign interests in both ends of the process has the U.S. government looking to make sure we have control of the process and it is fair. The biggest focus in the meats industry is the plant closures and disruptions in the supply line from COVID-19.
Some U.S. meatpacking plants shut down because so many people were out sick they couldn’t function, or were ordered to close so public health investigators could make sure the workplace was safe…. The meat industry must balance consumer demand with worker safety, when historically the industry’s concern — from the design of plants to employee protocols — prioritizes mass production.” – Green Bay Gazette
The House will be debating a bill to add another $38 billion to the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC), brining available funds to $68 billion. The USDA allocate this money to fund MFP3, direct commodity purchases, and other programs like WHIP+. Both sides are arguing about oversight of the distribution of the funds, but the bill is expected to pass later this spring.
After a historic rebound in the month of April, the Dow seemed to come back to earth to start May as we saw a 680-point drop last week. There is a lot of uncertainty about a possible second wave of shutdowns as the country begins to open back up, along with concerns about how China will respond to U.S. politicians calling for accountability in their transparency, or lack thereof, in the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis.
Corn planting has accelerated in the last week with planted acres now at 27% complete. This is 7% ahead of the normal pace and well ahead of where we were at this time in 2019. Still ahead of last year’s pace, the acres planted in the Eastern Corn Belt is lagging behind the rest of the country as they are stuck in a wet and cool weather pattern slowing their efforts to get in the field. As you can see from RJO’Brien’s U.S. Corn Planting Progress, the leading corn planted states are:
- MN at 40%
- IA at 39%
- IL at 37%
- NE at 20%
With parts of the country set to reopen this week, it will be important to keep your eye on what happens in the oil markets. If consumers start buying more gas and getting back to normal travel, look for ethanol demand to crawl back. There is no quick fix to these markets, any positive COVID-19 news remains the biggest boosts for these markets.
The biggest news in beans is that there is little to no news. Outside of some sales to China and Mexico, beans have been at the mercy of COVID-19 and Brazil. Soybean planting progress came in at 8% this week (average is 4%) as weather in a lot of areas was good over the weekend. U.S. bean prices continue to be competitive with South America, however SA beans are higher quality, leading them to be the preferred option:
U.S. soybean sales last week of 1.078 MMT (39.6 million bushels) fell in line with market expectations of 700k-1.2 MMT, but were the highest in 19 weeks. This comes with the return of Chinese buying with purchases of 618k tonnes for the week giving beans a much welcome price boost.
Crude Oil is still feeling the effects of last week’s historic day. While it has rebounded from the lows and is now trading in the $15 range, the outlook is still grim. As U.S. and World stocks are getting close to capacity, there are oil tankers anchored in place around the world’s oceans as they await instructions on where to deliver. The best case for oil prices comes with the world economy opening and consumers reverting back to normal means of consumption and any positive COVID-19 treatment news would be bullish for crude moving forward.
The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on a number of critical U.S. industries, but none more strategically important than food production. In the livestock industry, the biggest concern is keeping processing plants staffed. Line speeds have slowed considerably, and in some cases, plants shuttered completely. U.S. beef production fell from 565 million pounds the week of March 23rd to 414 million pounds last week, down -27% from a month ago. Pork production is also dropping sharply with hog slaughter down nearly 650,000 head on a weekly basis. The backlog is forcing producers to destroy millions of market ready animals, break eggs, abort sows, and euthanize piglets. Meat supplies are contracting, pushing wholesale beef prices to record highs. Pork bellies that were being rendered a few weeks ago have tripled in price. Shortages in meat cases are imminent unless something changes quickly.
On April 28th, President Trump attempted to address this situation by invoking the Defense Production Act, which will require meat packing plants to remain open. A key component of the ACT releases packing plant owners (Tyson, Cargill, Smithfield, JBS et al) from liability if workers fall ill from COVID-19. The announcement got immediate pushback from workers and labor unions representing 80% of the packing industry workforce.
The $19 Billion farm relief package that was announced a couple of weeks ago will touch most sectors of agriculture. Of the $19 Billion, $3.9 Billion will be direct payments for grain and soy growers, while the largest chunk of the money will be $9.6 Billion ($5.1 Billion for beef, $2.9 Billion for dairy and $1.6 Billion for hogs) to livestock producers that have been undercut by processing plant closures and logistic problems. Distribution of these funds will be made quickly according to various Senate sources.
“This aid will help keep food on Americans’ tables by providing a lifeline to farm families already hit by trade wars and severe weather.” – Zippy Duvall, President of the American Farm Bureau (USA Today)
The Dow is up again this week on news from the Fed promising support for the economy, while also pledging to keep interest rates near zero and possible treatments for COVID-19. After a miserable February and March, April has been a good month for the market as continued hope of a light at the end of the tunnel along with strong responses by the Fed have pushed markets higher.