In March 2020, prices for all Arabica group indicators increased due to concerns over the availability of that type of coffee while Robusta prices fell, according to the International Coffee Organisation’s (ICO) latest report. In 2019-20, world coffee consumption is projected to be higher than in 2018-19 as COVID-19 presents considerable downside risk to global coffee consumption, as demand is currently estimated to exceed production. However, the situation is evolving quickly and impacting both supply and demand.

After two months of decrease, the ICO composite indicator rose in March, averaging 109.05 US cents/lb, 6.9% higher than in February. This indicator is the second-highest monthly average in the coffee year 2019-20. The daily price of the ICO Composite ranged between 103.22 US cents/lb on 17 March and 117.41 US cents/lb on 25 March. Concerns over disruptions to the supply chain – as March is usually a month of lower stock on-hand in countries with crop years commencing in April, particularly Brazil – pushed prices higher.

Prices for all Arabica group indicators rose in March 2020, while Robusta prices fell by 0.9% to 67.46 US cents/lb. Brazilian Naturals increased by 10% to 112.87 US cents/lb, Other Milds by 9.5% to 148.33 US cents/lb, and Colombian Milds by 8.6% to 158.99 US cents/lb. The differential between Colombian Milds and Other Milds narrowed in March 2020, by 2.5% to 10.66 US cents/lb, after more than doubling in February 2020. Uncertainty about the immediate availability of washed Arabica kept prices firm for the Arabica group indicators.

The New York Arabica futures market rose by 8.8% to an average of 116.09 US cents/lb in March 2020, while the London Robusta futures market declined by 2.8% to 57.39 US cents/lb. As a result, the spread between Arabica and Robusta coffees, as measured on the New York and London futures markets, increased to 58.70 US cents/lb, which is 11.03 US cents/lb higher than in February. Certified Arabica stocks decreased by 6.1% month-on-month to 2.29 million bags in March 2020.

The volatility of the ICO composite indicator increased by 1.8 percentage points to 9.6% over the past month. The volatility of all Arabica indicators grew in March 2020. Other Milds rose by 3.5 percentage points to 11.5%, Brazilian Naturals by 2.6 percentage points to 13.1%, and Colombian Milds by two percentage points to 10.5%. The Robusta group indicator volatility was 4.5%, a decrease of 2.3 percentage points from February 2020.

Global exports in February 2020 totaled 11.11 million bags, compared with 10.83 million in February 2019. Exports in the first five months of the coffee year 2019-20 have decreased by 3.4% to 50.97 million bags compared to 52.78 million bags for the same period in 2018-19. Exports of Arabica decreased by 7.8% to 31.86 million bags in October 2019 through February 2020, while Robusta shipments increased by 4.8% to 19.1 million bags.

In February 2020, exports from Brazil decreased by 24.3% to 2.7 million bags compared to February 2019. Its shipments from October 2019 through February 2020 fell by 13.2% to 16.19 million bags compared to the same period in 2018-19. In 2019-20, Brazil’s crop was estimated at 57 million bags, 12.2% lower than 2018-19. Arabica production, which typically accounts for around 65-70% of its total crop, is in the off-year of its biennial cycle for 2019-20, leading to the downturn in total output this crop year. Typically harvesting of its new Robusta crop commences in April with Arabica activity beginning in June. However, delays may occur due to the spread of coronavirus, making it more challenging to hire and manage labor for harvesting and transportation. This could result in lower shipments in the short-term, mainly since stocks are relatively small at the end of its 2019-20 crop year.

Vietnam’s exports in February 2020 rose by 51.4% to 2.8 million bags, though this compared with an exceptionally low volume in February 2019. Further, Vietnam’s exports in the first five months of the coffee year, however, are down 4.1% at 11.15 million bags. Since the start of the coffee year in October 2019, Robusta prices have fallen each month, except in November 2019, making it likely that farmers in Vietnam are holding on to their coffee until prices rise. From 1 April, the Government of Vietnam has implemented a social distancing policy to curb transmission of coronavirus. This is unlikely to have a significant impact on production, an estimated 4.4% higher at 31.2 million bags, as harvesting is mostly complete. However, this could impact shipments in the near-term.

In February 2020, shipments from Colombia declined by 13.4% to 1.08 million bags compared to February 2019. Its exports in the first five months of the coffee year 2019-20 are 1.6% lower at 5.9 million bags. Production for Colombia is estimated at 1.7% higher at 14.1 million bags in 2019-20. According to the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia, 6.6 million bags were harvested through February, which is 8.8% higher than in the same period one year ago due to healthy growth at the start of the season. There have been reports about the lower availability of shipping containers passing through Colombia from China, which may have impacted exports in February.
Additionally, its output was reported 9.5% lower at just over 1 million bags in February 2020 compared to February 2019. A country-wide 19-day lockdown was announced by Colombia’s president from 25 March to slow the spread of coronavirus. Colombia’s second Mitaca crop typically begins harvesting in April, which is likely to be impacted by the containment measures as well as fewer migrant laborers available from neighbouring countries.

Indonesia’s exports in February 2020 were 80.2% higher than one year ago, reaching 876,000 bags. Its shipments from October 2019 through February 2020 are 84.7% higher at 2.87 million bags. However, this follows exceptionally low volumes last year, when production fell by 13.2% to 9.42 million bags, the lowest output since 2011-12. Indonesian production is estimated at 16.8% higher at 11 million bags in the crop year 2019-20. At present, it is difficult to foresee how the harvesting of the Robusta crop, as well as exports, may also be affected by Indonesia’s policies related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In February 2020, exports from Honduras declined by 2.8% to around 800,000 bags. Its shipments in the first five months of the coffee year 2019-20 are estimated 1.6% higher at 2.04 million bags. Production in 2019-20 is estimated at 7.3 million bags, similar to the output in 2018-19, but 3.4% lower than the record volume of 7.56 million bags in 2017-18. Low prices have already had a negative impact on production in Honduras, but a nationwide curfew has been imposed since 20 March, which will have a negative impact on shipments. Harvesting for 2019-20 has already been completed by this time and will not begin again until much later in the year. In the near term, exports of coffee, particularly if there is a lower availability of shipping containers or fewer workers at ports, may be reduced.

In 2019-20, world coffee consumption was estimated at 169.34 million bags, 0.7% higher than in 2018-19 as COVID-19 presents considerable downside risk to global coffee consumption. Currently, demand is estimated to exceed production, estimated at 168.86 million bags, by 0.47 million bags in 2019-20. However, the situation is evolving quickly, impacting both supply and demand. On the one hand, coffee consumption may contract because of the containment measures against the spread of coronavirus, particularly for out-of-home consumption.

Additionally, global economic growth in 2019 is expected to be much lower than initially forecast, accompanied by rising unemployment rates, further reducing demand and putting downward pressure on prices. On the other hand, disruptions to the supply chain both in shipping and harvesting could lead to temporary shortages in the supply, putting upward pressure on prices in the short term.

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