Global Corn Oil Trade Falls with Increased Competition and Tighter U.S. Supplies

Global corn oil trade, after peaking in 2016, has declined one-third to less than 600,000 tons in 2019. Much of this decline is in response to lower exports by the United States which represented 45 percent of global exports in 2019. Since 2017, U.S. exports have declined 44 percent to 263,000 tons in 2019. Most of this decline has occurred in the European Union (EU) where imports from the United States fell from nearly 175,000 tons in 2017 to close to zero in 2019.

The lower U.S. export volume reflects a decline in edible corn oil supplies which mostly impacted trade. Derived from wet milling of corn, edible corn oil production and can be impacted by demand for ethanol and other derived products such as corn sweeteners. Export availability can also be impacted by U.S. domestic corn oil demand for food and other uses. The current tight supply situation is reflected in corn oil prices which have nearly doubled over the past 12 months to $1,132/ton.

U.S Export Trends

Historically, the Middle East and North Africa have been the major export destination for corn oil. This is reflected in U.S. trade in the 10 years prior to 2012 as this region accounted for about three-quarters of U.S. exports. Total export volume for the period averaged near 360,000 tons with roughly 275,000 tons moving to the Middle East/North Africa region. Most of the remaining exports were confined to the Western Hemisphere with Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela being major destinations. Only about 5 percent of U.S. exports went to markets in Europe and Asia.

Beginning in 2012, U.S. exports to the EU increased, pushing to near 500,000 tons in 2015. However, U.S. exports to the Middle East and North Africa declined sharply in 2016 coinciding with a rise in the region’s imports from the EU. Given the corresponding rise in U.S. exports to the EU in 2016 and 2017, it appears a larger share of the corn oil imported by the Middle East and North Africa was processed in the EU and, ultimately, U.S. origin.

With the loss of U.S. exports to the EU beginning in 2018 and the slow decline in exports to the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. corn oil exports declined significantly below historic levels. As noted earlier, tighter supplies in the United States are a factor, especially in recent months, but so is the rising availability of other oils, particularly sunflower oil out of Ukraine and Russia. As sunflower oil is priced to sell and favored in both the EU and the Middle East/North Africa region, substitution effects are likely having an impact, particularly over the longer term. In fact, despite growing vegetable oil demand in the region, corn oil exports to the Middle East/North Africa region from all sources have declined 42 percent since peaking in 2011.

PROJECTION FOR 2020/21

Global 2020/21 oilseed production is forecast at 604 million tons, down 2 million from June due to lower Canada rapeseed and U.S. cottonseed production. Oilseed trade volumes are mostly unchanged. Crush is up on higher China soybean consumption. Global ending stocks are down 2 million tons on lower forecasts for Brazil soybeans and Canada rapeseed.

Protein meal and oil production are up on higher projected China soybean crush. Global trade in meal and oils is largely unchanged. The projected U.S. season-average farm price for soybeans is up $0.30 to $8.50 per bushel.

PROJECTION FOR 2019/20

Global oilseed production is up 2 million tons to 577 million on a higher Brazil soybean crop. Oilseed import volume is 3 million tons higher at 181 million, mostly on higher Brazil trade to China. Crush is up 2 million tons largely due to higher soybean crushing in China. Ending stocks are largely unchanged.

Protein meal production is forecast at 341 million tons, up 2 million on higher China soybean crush. Trade in meal is largely unchanged. Oil production is estimated up marginally on higher rapeseed and soy oil. The projected U.S. season-average farm price for soybeans is up $0.05 to $8.55 per bushel.

EXPORT PRICES

Soybean prices rose substantially in June. U.S. Gulf FOB soybean export bids in May averaged $350/ton, up $15 from May. Argentina Up River FOB averaged $346/ton, up $17. Although Brazil and U.S. prices were close throughout May, Brazil Paranagua FOB prices surged higher than competitors in June on tightening supplies, averaging $365/ton, up $27 from last month. Argentina and U.S. prices converged at the start of July, remaining below Brazil.

Soybean meal prices were little changed overall in June. U.S. soybean meal export bids averaged $335/ton, up $3 from May. Brazil and Argentina export prices also strengthened during the first half of June and then fell slightly, averaging slightly above the prior month. Brazil Paranagua FOB averaged $321/ton, up $7 from May, and Argentina Up River FOB averaged $319/ton, up just $1. However, meal prices appeared to be strengthening in early July. Oil prices rallied in June. Argentina soybean oil climbed $64 to average $659/ton for the month, while the Brazil average grew $66, to $661. The United States average rose less sharply, up $38 from May to $653/ton. Palm oil demand grew steadily in June as COVID-19 restrictions eased. Malaysia palm oil averaged $604/ton, up $75 from May and Indonesia averaged $589, up $68.

EXPORT SALES

As of the week ending July 2, 2020, U.S. soybean accumulated exports (shipments) to China totaled 13 million tons and 20.5 million to the rest of the world. Outstanding sales to China remain below 2018/19 levels at 3.3 million tons to China and 2.3 million to the rest of the world. U.S. soybean export commitments (outstanding sales plus accumulated exports) to China are 1.8 million tons higher than last year at 16.2 million, but remain below historic levels on a slow export pace. Brazil exports to China remain strong on a weak real and a record Brazilian soybean crop. Total commitments to the world lag behind last year, totaling 46 million tons as export commitments to markets outside China remain below 2018/19 levels.