Agri commodities go through the wringer

Gurumurthy K | Updated on March 10, 2018



Both gainers and losers, be it pulses or spices, saw wild price swings

The year 2015 was hard to forget for commodities. While major metals suffered their worst falls since 2008, agri commodities witnessed mixed fortunes.

It was a good year for some agri-commodities, not so for others. But one thing in common for both the gainers and losers was they witnessed similar volatility.

Most agri commodities futures contracts on the National Commodity and Derivatives Exchange (NCDEX) witnessed wild swings. Either they moved up sharply initially in the first half of the year and then fell back strongly thereafter or vice-versa.

Here, we take stock of the performance of the most actively traded agri commodities in the domestic exchange.

Pulses race

Pulses price skyrocketed in 2015 and became the major cause for the high food inflation. A sharp fall in overall pulses production and increase in imports took the prices higher.

This resulted in speculative stock positions, thereby reducing the supply in the market which, in turn, pushed prices higher. The Chana futures contract on the domestic exchange has risen about 40 per cent and has outperformed all the other commodities. Steps taken by the government, such as inspecting warehouses to deter hoarding and imposing stock limits for pulses did not actually ease prices to a great extent.

Oils and oilseeds mixed

Even within the oil and oilseed pack, 2015 saw plenty of divergence.

Soyabean tops the gainers in this category with a 13 per cent rise followed by mustardseed, which has risen 6.6 per cent on the NCDEX.

Short supplies due to lower volumes of crushing and the expectations of lower output following a forecast for a below-normal monsoon helped soyabean futures surge about 31 per cent to a high of ₹4,412 per quintal by May. The US recorded a bumper crop of soyabean this year. Therefore, higher global output and the fall in export demand prompted global buyers to seek out cheaper sources. As a result, soyabean plummeted to a low of ₹3,062 in August. China signing an agreement to buy more US soyabean came as a safety net and triggered a reversal to a high of ₹4,121 by October. On the domestic front, the monsoon ending with a 14 per cent deficit increased supply concerns and aided the price reversal.

Mustard seed rose on short supply due to lower production. Increase in demand for the seed to produce mustard oil is another factor that took prices higher.

But for these two oilseeds, others had a bearish year. The futures contracts of crude palm oil and castorseed are down 12.2 and 23.6 per cent, respectively, for the year.

A fall in bio-diesel demand following the sharp fall in global crude oil prices, a demand shift to cheaper soyaoil and Indonesia delaying its plan to increase the palm oil blending rate with diesel are the factors that drove crude palm oil prices to a five-year low of ₹351.8 per 10 kg in August. However, expectation of lower output due to warm weather and crop damage due to the haze in Malaysia and Indonesia (which account for about 85 per cent of the global palm oil production), helped prices recover some of these losses thereafter.

For castorseed, a strong ending in 2014 resulted in a weak beginning this year. There was a sudden and surprise surge in supply as the carry-over stocks started to hit the market. A sharp fall in demand from China also put pressure on the prices.

Not so spicy

The prices of spices were badly hit this year. Barring turmeric, which is the sole winner in this category, others like cardamom and coriander fell over 20 per cent while jeera is down by 6 per cent. Cardamom, the queen of spices, which gave the highest return last year, turned out to be the worst performer in 2015.

The futures contract on the MCX is down about 30 per cent this year. Bumper crops following good summer rains this year have dragged prices lower. Cheaper imported varieties from Guatemala, the world’s largest producer, also impacted domestic prices.

In coriander, the major trigger for a sharp fall came in October on the back of panic selling after reports that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) had sought coriander price information from NCDEX.

The turmeric futures contract on the NCDEX is up about 10 per cent. A fall in output following reduced acreage on the back of poor monsoons propped up prices.

Published on December 27, 2015

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