World Economy

Wheat’s Worst Plunge as Sellers Swell

Wheat’s Worst Plunge as Sellers SwellWheat’s Worst Plunge as Sellers Swell

Hedge funds are so down on wheat that even the worst price plunge in 29 years isn’t leaving them satisfied. Instead, a global glut has money managers ready for more losses and sticking with a net-bearish outlook for seven straight weeks. World inventories before the start of next year’s harvest are expected to climb to an all-time high as farmers reap bigger crops in the US, Russia and Ukraine.

Wheat futures have tumbled 21% since the end of June, heading for the worst quarterly loss since 1986. American farmers are particularly struggling because they’re saddled not just with bigger stockpiles, but also a rising dollar. The stronger currency is making exports from the US, the world’s top shipper, more expensive for overseas buyers, Bloomberg reported.

“You have a lot of producers around the world coming in with pretty solid crops,” said Sameer Samana, a St. Louis-based global quantitative strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute, which oversees $1.6 trillion. “You have France, the US, Russia, Ukraine and others all jockeying to sell their wheat. That will probably continue to put pressure on prices.”

The wheat net-short position, or bets on declines, totaled 39,382 futures and options in the week ended Sept. 15, according to US Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released three days later. The seven weeks of bearish outlook is the longest streak since late June.

Futures dropped 18% this year to $4.85 a bushel in Chicago. The Bloomberg Commodity Index of 22 components fell 16%. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities dropped 5.95, and the Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index gained 6.3%.

World wheat inventories at the end this season will grow to 226.56 million metric tons, the US Department of Agriculture said on Sept. 11. That’s up 7.2% from a year earlier, a third straight increase. The agency expects domestic stockpiles to jump 16% to a six-year high.

Silo Operators Maxed Out

There’s not a lot of demand for all that grain. In the US, commitments for exports this season are trailing last year’s pace by about 13%, government data show. French shippers are also having a hard time attracting buyers, and there’s so much excess supply in the country that some silo operators are maxed out.

“Investors are perpetually short because it’s a market where you’ve got a crop coming out of just about every country in the world,” said John Stephenson, the chief executive officer of Stephenson & Co. Capital Management in Toronto, which oversees C$55 million ($41.6 million). “It’s so well-supplied globally that it’s never usually a problem getting your hands on wheat.”

The saving grace for bulls could come from crop-damaging weather. Dryness is building in parts of Kansas, the largest US grower of winter varieties that are now being seeded. While the lack of moisture is a worry for farmers, a “big window” remains for sowing, said Helen Pound, a senior commodity specialist at Wedbush Securities in Minneapolis. Nine percent of the domestic winter crop was planted as of Sept. 13, matching the prior five-year average, USDA data show.

There are also risks to global plants. The Brazilian crop faced losses from frost this month, according to Somar Meteorologia. Winter-wheat in early stages in Ukraine may be stressed by hot, dry weather in the next week, Speedwell Weather forecasts. This year’s El Nino, which can bake parts of Asia and alter rainfall in South America, will peak around the end of the year as sea temperatures in the Pacific Ocean may exceed those seen in the record event almost two decades earlier, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.