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We have been following Coffee closely in recent weeks as interesting supply data emerged from South America and South East Asia. The latest bullish data point to emerge is unseasonable rain in the central highlands of Vietnam which may delay and diminish yields for the current Robusta cycle there.

In earlier posts we discussed Vietnam’s recent emergence as a major global producer of Coffee, particularly the less valued Robusta variety. With heavy rainfall in the Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong regions and more anticipated by meteorologists, contracts for both Arabica and Robusta contracts spiked sharply late in the week.

The short term bullish thesis that we have been exploring for coffee in General and Arabica is based on the assumption that consumers in China and other developing economies that have acquired a taste for premium blends, will continue to be loyal consumers for the immediate future despite signs of slowing economic growth. In short, demand resilience combined with tightening supply in both the primary and substitute markets will drive the price higher in the near term.

The seasonal inflections of the futures markets also support the bullish case here. We averaged returns for Arabica contracts from 1973 to the present. On a 35,30,20,15, 10 and 5 year average basis the near month contract has risen in November as part of a seasonal pattern that straddles the end of harvest in Brazil and the return of cold weather in the US and Europe –which traditionally increases the consumption of hot beverages (see chart below).

The long term bullish case is less clear. In the 70’s the market for premium South American beans collapsed when major US food conglomerates like Kraft decided that ,in the midst of a recession, US consumers would drink whatever was poured. It would be easy to see companies supplying Chinese consumers –who are notoriously thrifty, come to the same conclusion if Vietnamese Robusta becomes compellingly inexpensive compared to South American Arabica.

Andrew Barber