China

China’s COVID-19 curbs cut soyoil demand, crimp soybean appetite

Reuters
China’s COVID-19 curbs cut soyoil demand, crimp soybean appetite

SOYBEANS. Workers transport imported soybean products at a port in Nantong, Jiangsu province, China, April 9, 2018.

Reuters

China is the world's top consumer of edible oils. But lockdowns have cut soyoil consumption, which will carry over to demand for soybeans.

BEIJING, China – Plunging demand for soyoil in China is expected to cut consumption of the oilseed in the world’s biggest user as lockdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have shuttered restaurants and canteens, according to traders and analysts.

China is the world’s top consumer of edible oils, with millions of restaurants guzzling about half of the country’s roughly 17 million tons of soyoil, made from crushing soybeans, consumed each year to fry food.

But a two-month lockdown in Shanghai, China’s largest and wealthiest city, and anti-COVID-19 movement curbs in several other major cities have cut soyoil consumption, which will carry over to demand for soybeans.

Demand for all edible oils in the 2021-2022 marketing year beginning last September is set to drop 8.45% from a year ago to 39.02 million tons, the first decline this century, according to the National Grain & Oils Information Center, a government think tank, because of the lockdowns, high soybean prices, and substitution with animals fats.

Soyoil consumption in March fell 11% and by 15% in April from the same periods in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to estimates by Mysteel, a China-based commodity consultancy. Overall soyoil usage will be 16.74 million tons in 2022, down about 500,000 tons from 2019.

“We normally would use about one bottle of edible oil, about five liters, a day, mostly soybean oil. Now with the restaurant shut, not a single trickle of oil gets used,” said a small restaurant owner in Beijing who only gave his family name of Liu. His restaurant has been closed since the beginning of May.

For the 2021-2022 crop year, the US Department of Agriculture estimates China will consume 17.4 million tons of soyoil, down from 17.6 million tons in the 2020-2021 period. The USDA predicts consumption to rebound in the 2022-2023 crop year to a record of 18.05 million tons.

The slump in soyoil demand is expected to impact China’s overall bean imports. According to two China-based traders at international trading companies, the country has only covered about 30% of its monthly soybean import demand for July and only 20% for August.

Double whammy

The weak edible oil demand comes as soybean crushers already face poor demand for soymeal, the protein-rich animal feed ingredient also produced during the crushing process.

China’s industrial animal feed output in April slid nearly 11% from the previous year to 22.49 million tons, with pig feed down 15.2%, because of expensive raw materials and weak hog production margins, according to the China Feed Industry Association.

Tightening COVID-19-related control measures that have restricted the movement of feed ingredients and pushed up transportation fees have also disrupted meal trade.

Soymeal inventories for the week ending May 20 have doubled since the end of March, with consumption in the week falling by 5.67% from a year earlier, according to Maysteel.

Benchmark soybean prices have surged to their highest in almost 10 years because of tight global supply and that has squeezed crusher profits.

Soybean crush margins in the eastern province of Shandong, a main processing hub for the oilseed, have plunged nearly 1,700 yuan since early March, to -218 yuan (-$32.68) per ton as of Monday, May 23.

“The reasons were simple, strong international prices and weak domestic demand,” said Shi Hengyu, an analyst with Zhongtai Futures.

With high costs and weak demand, buyers who had already slowed purchases due to poor feed demand are even more reluctant to book too far ahead, traders and analysts said.

“Crushing plants have started selling soyoil contracts for future months, but the sale remains slow for July-September delivery,” said Jian Jianhui, an analyst with Mysteel. – Rappler.com

$1 = 6.6713 Chinese yuan renminbi