Crude palm oil prices to remain high in near term

HLIB Research maintained its “overweight” stance on the sector, underpinned by good near term earnings prospects (arising from high CPO prices) and commendable valuations.

KUALA LUMPUR: Crude palm oil (CPO) prices are expected to remain elevated in the near term, supported by the La Nina phenomenon, which will likely result in delay in soybean planting in South America and seasonally lower production cycle, according to Hong Leong Investment Bank (HLIB) Research.

The research house added that for January 2022, slower exports to China (as winter season typically slows palm oil demand from China) and India (on the back of high prices) will be mitigated by seasonally lower palm production cycle (exacerbated by the onset of La Nina and labour shortfall).

HLIB Research maintained its 2022 to 2023 CPO price assumptions at RM3,500 to RM2,900 per tonne.

The research unit noted that exports fell 3.5% month-on-month to 1.41 million tonnes in December 2021, dragged mainly by lower exports to China, India and Pakistan, but was partly mitigated by higher exports to the European Union (EU).

“While we still hold the view that CPO prices will start trending down from the second quarter of 2022 – this hinges on several uncertainties, including the entry of foreign workers into Malaysian shores, which could be delayed, as the recent Omicron variant has resulted in the government tightening the existing standard operating procedures (SOPs); and surging fertiliser prices, which may result in planters (in particular smallholders) reducing fertiliser application to oil palms, hence derailing the anticipated yield recovery,” said HLIB Research.

HLIB Research maintained its “overweight” stance on the sector, underpinned by good near term earnings prospects (arising from high CPO prices) and commendable valuations.

Maybank Investment Bank (IB) Research also noted that CPO prices are off to a good start in 2022 due to weather risk in this region as well as South America.

“High fertiliser prices, disrupted fertiliser supplies and labour shortage in Malaysia may possibly cause palm oil yields to again come in below expectation in 2022,” said Maybank IB Research.

The research unit also reckoned that Malaysia’s export competitiveness to India has been eroded since late December 2021 as India cut the basic import tax on refined palm oil to 12.5% from 17.5% until March 2022, and extended unrestricted import of refined palm oil until December 2022 (from December 2021).

“We view these recent policy changes to favour Indonesia’s refiners over Malaysian refiners,” said the research unit.

Maybank IB Research also pointd out that the weather risk in South America, especially in the southern part of Brazil (the world’s largest soybean producing country) and Argentina (third largest after the United States), is slowly being reflected in industry estimates due to unfavourable weather there.

Meanwhile, Kenanga Research is expecting January 2022 production to just more or less meet exports with imports needed to meet domestic consumption.

“Some drawdown of December inventory is also anticipated hence end-January 2022 inventory is excected shrink by about 9% month-on-month,” said Kenanga Research, adding that a labour shortfall is to set to continue constraining the sector in the first half of 2022.

The research unit said guest workers are expected to only start trickling in after the second quarter of 2022.

According to Kenanga Research, palm oil fundamentals over the next month or two suggest little room for bad news, be it unexpected labour shortages, poor weather or negative news from rival oil and fat complexes.

The prevailing key factors are the speed of foreign workers intake to address the labour situation, Chinese and Indian demand, ESG (environmental, social and governance) developments, and supply-demand dynamics of other edible oils.

Kenanga Research maintained its “neutral” rating on the plantation sector as supply should progressively ease current tightness in the global oils and fats market.

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