Higher tax burden for plantation firms

FFortress Capital Asset Management CEO Thomas Yong (pic) told StarBiz that the 8% CPO export duty would negatively affect pure upstream players in Malaysia.

PETALING JAYA: With the rally in crude palm oil (CPO) prices owing to stronger global demand and lower production, the world’s two largest palm oil exporting countries, Indonesia and Malaysia, are taking advantage of the higher prices through increased taxes on the commodity.

In just weeks after Indonesia raised its taxes on CPO exports, Malaysia has followed suit by re-imposing the export duty on the vegetable oil starting January 2021 at a rate of 3%-8% for CPO prices above RM2,250 per tonne.

The government has previously exempted the CPO export duty from July to December 2020 under the Penjana stimulus package.

In addition to the export duty, oil palm growers may also face additional RM5 cess on every tonne of CPO and crude palm kernel oil (CPKO) produced next year, as compared to RM14 currently.

The one-off cess, proposed by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board, is also slated to be effective from January.

Several quarters in the industry have voiced objections on the need for additional cess, even as the government is already expected to collect RM500mil in windfall profit tax from the plantation industry in 2021 as compared to an estimated RM348mil this year.

Industry players are raising concerns on the government’s move to impose higher taxes on the plantation industry, considering that CPO prices have only strengthened in the past few months following a prolonged low price environment previously.

Fortress Capital Asset Management CEO Thomas Yong (pic) told StarBiz that the 8% CPO export duty would negatively affect pure upstream players in Malaysia.

According to him, the upstream plantation players will incur higher costs and at the same time, will face difficulties in passing on the extra cost to end buyers, given the abundant vegetable oil substitutes in the market.

“However, Indonesia has also raised its CPO export duty recently, hence both countries will still be relatively competitive with each other.

“Investors should look into integrated plantation companies because these companies are able to process the CPO into downstream products to avoid higher export duty on CPO, ” said Yong.

Concurring with Yong, PublicInvest Research analyst Chong Hoe Leong said the 8% tax is “slightly negative” for CPO prices as it would curb palm oil demand from Malaysia.

The impact would be more taxing for pure upstream players while it would be milder for integrated players, he added.

“It will also narrow the gap between Malaysian and Indonesian CPO price to about RM570 per tonne from RM862 per tonne, making it a more competitive playing field for Indonesian counterparts, ” said Chong in a note.

Despite the increased tax burden on the plantation industry, experts do not think it is all doom and gloom.

Yong expects the plantation sector’s earnings outlook to improve further in the early part of 2021 due to the sustained strength of CPO price in the near term, which is the main driver for plantation companies’ earnings.

“CPO production is expected to be seasonally low while demand is picking up ahead of a recovery in the global economy and demand from the Chinese New Year festival.

“Plantation companies’ share prices usually run ahead of CPO prices, hence at the current juncture we will recommend investors to look at laggards with strong business models to benefit from the high CPO price, ” he said.

Meanwhile, PublicInvest Research’s Chong has maintained a “neutral” view on the sector.

He, however, expects a surge in December palm oil exports.

“We believe palm oil importers will rush for more imports from Malaysia ahead of the resumption of export duty as it attracts significant savings.

“For the Dec 1-20 period, Malaysian palm oil exports rose 12% month-on-month as shipments to India and the European Union rose 57% and 17%, respectively, ” he said.

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