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Weather Concerns in Brazil Push Sugar Prices Higher

Sugar prices Wednesday moved higher as weather risks in Brazil sparked short covering in sugar futures.   Forecaster Maxar Technologies said heavy rain is expected in Brazil’s sugar-growing regions over the next ten days, which risks delaying Brazil’s sugar harvest.

Last Friday, sugar prices climbed to 1-week highs after the International Sugar Organization (ISO) projected a decline in 2023/24 global sugar production, and the global sugar market would fall into a deficit.

The ISO last Thursday projected 2023/24 global sugar production will fall -1.2% y/y to 174.8 MMT and that the global sugar market in 2023/24 will fall into deficit by -2.12 MMT from a 2022/23 global sugar surplus of +852,000 MT.

Sugar also has support after sugar trader Czarnikow projected last Monday that Thailand 2023/24 sugar production would drop -31% y/y to a 17-year low of 7.4 MMT due to dry weather.  So far this year, rainfall in Thailand is well below the same period last year, and the onset of the El Nino weather system could lower precipitation even further over the next two years.  Thailand is the world’s third-largest sugar producer.

A bullish factor for sugar was the estimate from the Indian Sugar Mills Association (ISMA) on Aug 2 that India’s 2023/24 sugar production would decline -3.4% y/y to 31.68 MMT.  India is the world’s second-largest sugar producer.

In a bearish factor, Unica last Thursday reported that Brazil Center-South sugar output in the second half of July rose +11.3% y/y to 3.681 MMT and that sugar output in the 2023/24 crop year through July rose +19.8% y/y to 19.167 MMT.  Also, 48.62% of the crushed sugarcane was used for sugar production this year, an increase from 44.34% last year.

Brazil’s recent favorable weather conditions prompted sugar trader Czarnikow to raise its 2023 Center-South sugar production forecast by 500,000 MT to 38.2 MMT.  Also, Datagro on June 29 forecasted that Brazil’s Center-South, the main sugar-growing region, will produce a record 39.1 million tons of sugar in the 2023/24 marketing year that began in April, up +16% y/y.

Sugar prices were undercut when India’s Food Ministry on Aug 4 said the country’s sugar stocks were sufficient and stood at 10.8 MMT at the end of July, dampening speculation that India might curtail sugar exports.

A bullish factor for sugar is concern that an El Nino weather pattern could disrupt global sugar production.   On June 8, the  U.S. Climate Prediction Center said that sea surface temperatures across the equatorial Pacific Ocean had risen 0.5 degrees Celsius above normal, and wind patterns have changed to the point where El Nino criteria have been met.  An El Nino weather pattern typically brings heavy rains to Brazil and drought to India, negatively impacting sugar crop production.  The last time El Nino brought dryness to sugar crops in Asia was in 2015 and 2016, which caused prices to soar.

The USDA, in its bi-annual report released on May 25, projected that global 2023/24 sugar production would climb +6.0% y/y to a record 187.881 MMT and that global 2023/24 human sugar consumption would increase +2.3% y/y to a record 180.045 MMT.  The USDA also forecasted that 2023/24 global sugar ending stocks would fall -15.2% y/y to a 13-year low of 33.455 MMT.

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