China's agricultural commodity imports for February
The strong Chinese ethanol import demand, which many US producers heralded in investor calls earlier in the year, has only strengthened.
Last month, purchases totalled 197,652 cubic metres – up from just 9 cubic metres in February 2017, when tax rises on imports from Brazil and the US began to bite.
The figure was also above the January total of 120,702 cubic metres, and indeed the largest since May 2017.
China’s ethanol imports have revived with a drive to boost use of the biofuel, but with the country’s own production capacity still at the start of a ramp-up drive.
In good news for US ethanol producers, almost all of China’s imports of the biofuel last month – 189,035 cubic metres - came from the US.
That compares with 2 cubic metres in February 2017.
Germany was the second-largest origin for Chinese ethanol imports last month, at 8,608 cubic metres.
US soybean setback
However, there was some less good news for the US elsewhere, notably in soybean data, which highlighted the accelerated loss of market share this season.
Sure, the 3.34m tonnes that China imported from the US was far above the 1.75m tonnes imported from Brazil.
But that is largely down to the time of year, with Brazil’s harvest still in progress, and so exportable supplies weak.
Relative to February 2017, Chinese soybean imports from the US were down 24%, and from Brazil up 154%.
And that switch only seems to be continuing, with Benson Quinn Commodities flagging talk that “as many as 10 cargoes traded Thursday at $443 a tonne CIF to China, versus $446 CIF China equivalents ex-US origins”.
The broker also noted talk of Chinese buyers from the US “looking to include cancellation clauses in the event of an import tax”.
On grains, US origin suffered some setbacks too, with wheat exports to China cut to zero last month, from 10,400 tonnes in February last year, while Kazakhstan saw a step up, of 49% to 38,981 tonnes.
In sorghum, Chinese imports from the US fell by 24.4% to 555,713 tonnes – but not, as many had been expected, with Australian supplies making up the difference.
Indeed, sorghum imports from Australia fell to zero from 7,998 tonnes a year before.