by Chris Lyddon
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Rice production and consumption are set to break more records, although the experts are watching the weather and particularly the development of any possible El Niño.

“Global rice production for 2014-15 is forecast at a record 480.7 million tonnes (milled basis), up 1% from a year earlier,” the USDA’s Economic Research Service said in its Rice Outlook report for May. “Record production is projected for Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.”

It projected global rice consumption and residual use in 2014-15 at a record 482.2 million tonnes, an increase of 1.5% from a year earlier, and projected global ending stocks for 2014-15 at 109.8 million tonnes, down about 1%.

The ERS forecast total calendar year 2015 global rice trade at a record 41.3 million tonnes, up 1% from 2014.

“Thailand, the United States, Egypt and Vietnam are projected to export more rice in 2015, while Australia, Brazil and India are projected to export less,” the report said. “China and Nigeria are projected to increase rice imports in 2015, while Indonesia and the Philippines are expected to import less rice.”

ERS also commented on prices. “Prices for higher grades of Thailand’s regular-milled white rice are down 1%-2% from a month earlier, largely due to continued sales of government stocks,” it said. “Price quotes from Vietnam have increased over the past month.”

U.S. prices for long-grain milled rice were unchanged from the previous month.

“Prices for California milled rice for the U.S. market and the global market are unchanged from a month earlier, after sharply rising during the winter and early spring due to concerns over water availability for the 2014 crop,” the report said.

In its Food Outlook Report, the FAO considered 2014. “International trade in rice may reach a new record in 2014, as lower world prices induce traditional importers to return to the market to buy more,” it said. “This, along with the potential of an El Niño event in the second part of 2014, may help reverse the slide of Indica prices witnessed in the past twelve months.

“International rice prices have followed divergent trends since the beginning of 2014. Prices in the medium grain segment rose sharply amid prospects of diminished availabilities in the United States and Australia, the major Japonica suppliers, and continued export restraints in Egypt.

“This strength contrasted with the weakness dominating the long-grain segment. Indeed, reflecting ample export availabilities and lukewarm buying interest, the high quality Indica sub-index eased by 4 percent between January and April 2014, while the lower quality Indica prices remained below 200 points for the full four-month period, a low not seen since August 2010.”

For the benchmark Thai white rice, 100%B, quotations stood at to $408 per tonne in April, the lowest level since January 2008, it said.

“In the first four months of 2014, they averaged $440 per tonne, 27% below the corresponding period in 2013,” it said.

“Based on the current FAO forecast, world rice production in 2014 could reach 501.1 million tonnes, only 4 million tonnes, or 0.8 percent, above the 2013 level,” FAO said. “If confirmed, this would be the third consecutive season of subdued growth, with part of the expected slowdown resting on expectations of a mild El Niño recurring as of mid-2014, a critical period for world rice crop development.”

FAO forecast global rice utilization in 2014-15 at 502.2 million tonnes, up 2.4% on the year.

“Much of the season’s consumption growth would be sustained by a continuing rise in direct human consumption, as food intake is estimated to absorb 417 million tonnes in 2014-15, 1.7 percent, or 7 million tonnes more than in 2013-14,” it said.

“Taking into account a projected 1.4% growth in world population, the average rice food intake would rise to 57.7 kilos per capita, which is somewhat above the 2013-14 estimate of 57.4 kilos. Rice remains expensive in domestic markets, with many countries reporting lingering high local prices.”

The FAO looked at price developments in its Rice Market Monitor.

Retail/wholesale prices have tended to remain firm in Asia, it said.

“This was particularly the case in Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, where quotations stand noticeably above year-earlier levels,” it said.

“Among the major buyers in the region, price gains in Bangladesh are being attributed to supply disruptions caused by prolonged unrest, whereas in Indonesia they have been associated to the increase in subsidized prices of fuel last June. After holding largely stable in recent years, dwindling stock levels have also exerted pressure on domestic quotations in the Philippines, while increases in Sri Lanka come amid expectations of a drought-reduced 2014 crop.”

Based on available data, the only exceptions to this trend in the region are Japan and Thailand, in both cases thanks to overall large harvests and, in Thailand, due to an intensified pace of government stock sales, the report said.

“As to prospects for the upcoming months, international rice export prices are likely to be influenced by the progress of secondary crop harvests in northern hemisphere countries and of 2014 main crops along and south of the equator,” FAO said.