China, weather to drive global commodity markets

by Keith Nunes
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NEW YORK – China’s impact on global commodity markets and extreme weather volatility in North America are the leading issues in the North American food and agribusiness sector heading into 2013, according to a survey of 350 food and agribusiness industry executives conducted by Rabobank.

The survey was conducted during the investment firm’s annual industry forum in New York. Asked to name the country or region they believe will have the greatest impact on global agricultural commodity demand over the next 10 years, 61 percent of respondents at the event chose China. That view of China’s continued dominance far exceeded views of India (14 percent), Africa (10 percent), Latin America (9 percent), and Southeast Asia (6 percent).

“These results are not surprising and reflect the significant impact that China has had on the food and agribusiness industry over the past 10 years, globally as well as in North America,” said Bill Cordingley, the head of food and agribusiness research and advisory for Rabobank in the Americas. “China today has the second largest middle class in the world at 157 million, which will surpass the US’s middle class in the next 10 years, so China’s demand for agricultural commodities is going to continue to grow. Our North American clients in the food, beverage and agriculture sectors see opportunities to play a role in the Chinese market, not only as exporters but also as investors in the country’s domestic growth by bringing technology, know-how and capital to support development of a more modern, safe food system in China.”

Extreme weather patterns were also noted as a top-of-mind issue among the executives who participated in the survey. Sixty-eight percent of attendees named weather extremes/volatility as the biggest factor affecting North American food and agribusiness in 2013. That concern far outweighed the next two closest factors — consumer demand (13 percent) and policy/regulation (10 percent). Global political events, trade/tariffs/exchange rates, and policy/regulation all received votes in the single digits.

“Given that the North American industry, particularly the US, is in the middle of the worst drought in over 50 years,” Cordingley said, “these views are quite understandable and represent a significant issue that is top of mind for most food industry players as we enter 2013.”

With regard to concern related to continued weather volatility, 59 percent of respondents said the 2012 drought has changed their views about risk management in their business. Executives at the Rabobank Forum cited an increased focus on financial liquidity (25 percent), increased investment in risk management and insurance (21 percent), and greater diversification (13 percent) as their three leading solutions to hedge against continued volatility in weather patterns and commodity markets.

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