Latest flour output data suggest faltering demand

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — U.S. wheat flour production in April-June totaled 105,114,000 cwts, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Output was down 0.8% from 105,923,000 cwts produced in the second quarter of 2014, the latter based on a North American Millers’ Association (NAMA) panel of the largest U.S. mills and subsequently interpolated by World Grain’s sister publication Milling & Baking News to make the data comparable with earlier statistics issued by the U.S. Census.

However, the NASS second quarter was up 1.9% from U.S. mill output of 103,116,000 cwts in the first quarter of 2015, as compiled by NASS.

Flour production in the first six months of 2015 (NASS) aggregated 208,230,000 cwts, down 0.7% from 209,748,000 in the first half of 2014 (NAMA).

Of note this April-June was the fourth successive quarter of flour production data compiled by NASS. July-September 2014 totaled 106,826,000 and October-December 108,376,000. The four-quarter total (July-2014-June 2015) was 423,432,000 — all NASS — compared with the mixed source record 424,950,000 in 2014. Coincidentally the last Census numbers covered the second quarter of 2011. The four-quarter aggregate at that point was 413,722,000 with the first purely NASS aggregate up 2.3% over the most recent Census four quarters.

Although NASS, NAMA (as interpolated) and earlier census statistics are strictly not comparable, initial indications suggest they are close enough to provide meaningful comparisons.

The 24-hour milling capacity in April-June was reported by NASS at a record 1,623,000 cwts, up 13,000 from a revised first quarter at 1,610,000, which also would have been a new high. It was up 45,000 cwts from the year ago NAMA level. Census Bureau showed 1,539,000 in the second quarter of 2011, and flour milling capacity has risen 4.6% since then.

Based on available NASS data, six-day grind in the second quarter was 84.1% of capacity, down from 84.3% in in the first, 87.9% in October-December and 86.7% in July-December. NAMA numbers suggest a run rate of 87.2% a year ago. The Census in the second quarter of 2011 was 84.7%. The operating rate of U.S. flour mills was the lowest since 2004.
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