No Brazilian Logistics Meltdown, Yet

Fewer soybean exports flowing to China

What a difference a year makes, our high school baseball coach used to say at the hopeful outset of each losing season.

And while the slogan lost some of its motivational power by my junior year, it's holding true so far for Brazilian exporters who lost a reported $2.5 billion last year after dozens of Chinese cancelations.

Back then Brazil was hit by a "perfect storm" of factors that led to dozens of ships bobbing at anchor off the two main soybean ports, at a cost of something like $25,000 per day, per ship, in demurrage charges.

Given that next to nothing has been done since then to improve Brazil's export logistics, and given Brazil's big 2014 soybean crop, many predicted March, 2013 all over again.

But it hasn't happened. At least not yet.

Getting lucky
How did Brazil get lucky this year? First, China hedged its bets on soybean supplies this time around, canceling fewer orders of U.S. beans than they normally would this time of year. One Brazilian media report says the number of ships slated to head from Brazil to China laden with beans is 40% smaller than last year.

At the moment, just 2.8 million metric tons of Brazilian beans are scheduled to leave Brazil's Santos port next month, versus 4.8 million in April of 2013, says a Reuters report.

For one thing, the Chinese appear to have slowed their rate of soybean purchasing, at least in the short term, as they're sitting on big stocks and looking at a possible economic slowdown ahead, along with lower soymeal demand resulting from avian flu.

Related: Blogging Through Brazil: Holy Rough Roads!

And even so, there's far less fervor out there right now to get hold of corn than there was last year when the U.S. crop had come up short. The result of that, this year, is fewer loads of corn competing with soybeans to get loaded onto ships at limited port facilities.

And by limited, I mean limited. Heavy and frequent rains at this time last year meant the Brazilians couldn't load corn or beans if there was a whiff of rain in the air. After all, most of the loading isn't protected against weather. And while bean sprouts may be on the menu in many Asian households, few shippers wanted to arrive in Shanghai and open up the hold to find a shipload of them rather than one full of crushable soybeans.

With U.S. stocks so low, there's word the Chinese may just ship some of their Brazilian beans to the States rather than cancel them all. And thus, without having taken any real steps to improve infrastructure, Brazil could come out of 2013-14 smelling like a rose.

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