SUGAR PRICES---IS RS 42/KG ++ IS THE NEW NORM??
A broad analysis of the sugar market from 2009 onwards till July 2017 reveals that mega trend of the sugar prices has remained bullish.
“Retail” sugar prices ascended from Rs 29/kg in 2009 to Rs 32-35/kg in 2014—higher by 20%. In the recent past, sugar climbed up from Rs 31/kg in 2015 to Rs 39/kg in 2016 –an uptick of 24% and then to Rs 43/kg in 2017, another upside of 10 %. (Data -Price Monitoring Cell, Deptt of Consumer Affairs). Sugar is retailed at Rs50/kg in Srinagar.
On pan India basis sweetener’s price climbed north by 34% in last two years. This is when international market is down by about 40% in a year –from 22c/lb to 13.50 c/lb (raw values). (See chart). If import is made now, refined sugar will cost Rs 27/kg without any duty. After provisioning for margin of whole sale and retail, imported sugar may not cost more than Rs32/kg to consumer at zero duty. India is thus exposed to a counter reality where sugar is sold at Rs42-43/kg when Sugar cane cost is Rs230/qtl.( According to CACP net return on sugarcane is highest at 52% on all India basis with crop duration of 12months.)
Press release issued by GOI on 14th July 2017 states that “The annual rate of inflation, based on monthly “wholesale” price index (WPI), stood at 0.90% (provisional) for the month of June, 2017 (over June,2016) as compared to 2.17% (provisional) for the previous month”. Thus whole sale inflation in India is less than 1%. But sugar has bucked the trend with WPI as 30% for 2016-17 and 11% for 2017-18. Retail inflation (mentioned above)and wholesale inflation are thus well synchronised!!!
SUPER PROFITS FOR MILLS
Sensing the current scenario, stocks/shares of sugar mills are well supported. Most of the major mills shares have crossed 50% upside and some others have breached 140% rise in a year (see Chart) , indicating super profits. Mills in UP have done exceptionally well as compared to those in West and South of India. This is good time for the mills to have an in house stabilization fund to act as buffer for adverse market conditions.
In 2009-14, whenever retail values exceeded Rs40/kg, counter measures were initiated to drag down price to Rs 35/kg or so. Recently too Government initiated three step intervention to manage sugar prices –first by authorizing quota of duty free import of 0.5 million tons (mt) between April –June 2017. Second, in early July2017 it hiked import duty from 40% to 50% to keep prices firmer and stable, by preventing cheap imports. This second step is in contradiction to the first step of allowing 0.5mt imports to soften local prices.
Now in August2017, the same Ministry is reportedly contemplating third step of allowing another import tranche of about 0.25-0.3mt (originally thought to be of 0.5 mt). The third step negates the action of raising the duty done in the second step.
Thus authorities lack clarity on policy—whether prices should remain firm or whether they are to be pulled down. Net result of this flip flop and pull-push policies is that sugar prices are bound to remain in the region of Rs43-45/kg at retail level at major centers Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Guwahati (see chart)
During festive season of Sep-October 2017, demand pressure will ensure that sugar touches a new high. Sugar balance sheet indicates opening stock of 4 mt as on 1st October 2017—which is tight in any case. Had Government desisted from hiking duty to 50% in July 2017, some imports with lower global prices would have landed to keep local values in check.
Operational procedure for registering imports via DGFT and subsequently ensuring timely shipments is very challenging. Raw sugar imports from Brazil—if allowed under Advance Licensing Scheme cannot land at Indian ports before October 2017. Refined sugar shipments from Thailand appear to be the only possibility provided total tonnage and conditions of imports including custom duty if any is notified yesterday.
Sugar availability in North-East and South of India is a cause of concern and any shortage on immediate basis has to be made good through UP millers. Next year too, unless imports of 1 mt are made—we may see even higher sugar prices-may be Rs 50/kg, from existing Rs 44/45 pkg in the major Indian cities.
It will be thus expedient to affect more imports immediately to restrain further spike in prices. Sugar prices above Rs 36-37/kg give super profitability to Indian mills. Time has come to protect the consumer and somehow narrow the gap between rate of sugar inflation and general inflation which is less than 1%.