Mumbai: Vegetable oil imports by India are set to rise at the slowest pace in three years as consumption growth is curbed by higher prices and increasing domestic cooking oil supplies, according to G.G. Patel and Nikhil Research Co.

Overseas purchases, including for industrial use, may rise 6.6% to a record 15 million tonnes in the year starting 1 November from a year earlier, Govindlal G. Patel, managing partner of the research company, said in remarks prepared for an industry conference in Mumbai on Monday. Imports surged 20% and 12% each in the previous two years, Patel said.

Slowing demand from the world’s biggest palm oil importer may stem a rally in futures in Kuala Lumpur amid record production and reduced demand for vegetable oils as biodiesel feedstock. Palm entered a bull market last week as the ringgit slumped and a strengthening El Nino spurred concern that output may shrink in top producers Indonesia and Malaysia.

“In the current year, the weighted-average price of edible oils was lower by around 8% in comparison with previous year and this boosted the consumption," said Patel, who’s traded vegetable oils for more than four decades. “In 2015-16, it is likely that the consumption growth may be normal at around 5%. Due to the El Nino threat, palm oil prices may remain less competitive against soybean oil."

El Nino

Palm oil prices may rise if the El Nino worsens and trims crop yields in Malaysia and Indonesia, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Tobias Nystedt and James Evans. This year’s El Nino, which the Australian Bureau of Meteorology has said is the strongest since 1997-98, could restrict output in the Pacific region. Prices more than doubled within months during the record event, they said.

The benchmark futures contract on Bursa Malaysia Derivatives in Kuala Lumpur has climbed 28% from this year’s closing low of 1,867 ringgit on 26 August, exceeding the 20% advance that’s the common definition of a bull market. Prices surged 11% last week, the biggest weekly gain since November 2008.

Import tax

India’s decision to increase import duties on cooking oils this month will also curb inbound shipments, Patel said. The South Asian country increased the import duty on crude palm and soybean oils to 12.5% from 7.5%, while the tariff on refined oils was increased to 20% from 15%, the Central Board of Excise and Customs said on 18 September.

India’s cooking oil usage may total 21 million tonnes in 2015-16, with per-capita consumption growing at about 5% from 7.4% this year, Patel said. Palm oil shipments may jump to 9.6 million tonnes in 2015-16 from 9.04 million tonnes, while crude soybean oil imports are seen rising 18% to 3.55 million tonnes, he said.

India’s total vegetable oil availability may increase by 2% to 6.26 million tonnes next year, boosted by higher production of rapeseed oil this year, Patel said. Rapeseed production may jump 16% to 5.8 millions tonnes, while soybean output will be unchanged at 8.5 million tons and the peanut harvest may drop 12.7% to 3.1 million tonnes, he said.

“As the farmers have realized excellent prices for rapeseed, it is more likely that the area will increase substantially and rainfall in the last fortnight of September will likely prove supportive for the crop," Patel said.

India meets more than half its cooking oil requirements through imports with palm oil shipped from Indonesia and Malaysia and soybean oil from the US, Brazil and Argentina. Vegetable oil purchases in the 10 months through August surged 23% to 11.7 million tonnes from a year earlier, the Solvent Extractors’ Association of India said on 15 September. Bloomberg

Close