x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Trader profile: when to buy coffee, sugar and other commodities

Pradeep Unni, the head of trading and research at Richcomm Global Services in the DMCC, advises investors to buy sugar and coffee now.

What is the asset class and geography that you are focused on?

We primarily focus on commodities. In Dubai obviously gold is big. We also trade in a lot of agricultural commodities, like soy beans, wheat, sugar, coffee and palm oil. Primarily we trade for clients from three investor classes. The first is those who are actually importing the commodities into the Arabian Gulf or into the Middle East and want to hedge their commodity price risk on the exchanges. Another group is actual investors. They’ll ask us, “Should I buy sugar now, should I buy corn now?” They don’t have any specific product knowledge – they just want to invest. Third, we trade for ourselves as speculative investors, in and out.

For the firm, we’d rather do the short term. We do this for hedging. For traditional stocks, macroeconomic and company fundamentals will be sufficient. But for commodities, there are fundamental supply and demand factors, the currency situation, the weather situation – everything matters for agricultural commodities.

What’s your outlook for demand for agricultural commodities?

Early 2013 was a very bad year, with rising production across the segments. There are a lot of huge surpluses, and all the stockpiles are very high. The weather has been very, very good. In sugar, there has been a surplus for almost two or three years now. The natural oils and the agricultural commodities will have to struggle primarily because of the rising agricultural production and also because of the tapering that the federal reserve has been doing. Anything to do with dollars will obviously affect these commodities.

What are the main risks to that outlook?

Weather has a major, major effect. Also currency risk, like what happened the other day in Argentina when they devalued the currency. Temperatures that dropped to minus 50°C in the United States have damaged a lot of wheat, so weather is a primary factor, and second is currency risk. In biofuels, the Malaysian government decided to increase the mix of palm oil in the fuel that they use, which means a lot of that palm oil that was supposed to go to the market will now go to biofuels.

What was the best investment you were involved in?

In sugar, when there was a fire in a port in Brazil, the whole market was thinking that the sugar crop was damaged. Roughly 2 to 3 million tonnes of sugar were burnt, and obviously there was rising demand for sugar. But we had already done a study on the sugar market, and we knew there was a 4.5 to 5 million tonne surplus. So even if there were lost supplies, there would still be a surplus. When the market was buying, we used those strategies to sell when the market was higher.

What was the worst?

There are a few. When the coffee prices were continuously coming down last year, we thought OK, enough is enough, they’re not going to come down further, they’re already at a seven-year low. We bought more. Obviously we were wrong and we had to sell and cut our losses. When we go wrong, the smart people exit, they don’t hold on to it.

What is the best investment at the moment?

We are advising all of our investors to go long on coffee and also go long on sugar. The current prices are below the cost of production for coffee. For sugar, even though there is a surplus of supply, we still think it is very positive because the global economy seems to be improving.


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