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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Indian Monsoon Likely to Head for Major Disruptions amidst Strong El Niño

The contribution of agriculture in GDP is on consistent decline; it has shrunk from over 25.80 per cent in 1996 to about 16.96 per cent in 2014 and is further expected to decline because of the lack of focus on agriculture. This share is on consistent decline owing to lack of focus on agriculture over the years and shrinking economic support. Indian agriculture still continues to real under the shadow of monsoon. The lack of irrigation facilities continues to pressure the Indian agriculture even after 62 years of independence, since only 48.3 per cent of sown agricultural land is irrigated. The land of the country is thus under tremendous pressure to feed over a billion population and provide employment to about 65 per cent of the total work force. It is therefore very necessary that the monsoon should commence on proper time and precipitation should be in adequate amount.
Indian agriculture is facing increased pressure on account of consistent population growth (Annual 1.53 per cent) and its extensive reliability on monsoon rains. For farmers, it is highly critical to know when the onset will occur as this affects the timing of the planting of crops. If rainfall is deficient then more than two-thirds of the seedlings can die. To prevent this, the prediction systems play a very important role. Rain is critical as two-thirds of the population depends on farm income and nearly 60 per cent of summer-sown areas do not have assured irrigation. Kharif crops account for nearly half of India’s food output, including rice, lentils, sugar, spices, mangoes and oilseeds.  The country is already reeling under a series of unseasonal rain and hailstorms that has damaged crops in 16 per cent of total area sown in the winter.
El Niño is a 'warm' ocean current originating along the coast of Peru that replaces the usual 'cold' Peru or Humboldt Current. This warm surface water reaching towards the coast of Peru with El Niño are pushed westwards by the trade winds thereby raising the temperature of the Southern Pacific Ocean. A reverse condition is known as La Niña. Southern Oscillation, a phenomenon first observed by Sir Gilbert Thomas Walker Director-General of Observatories in India, refers to the seesaw relationship of atmospheric pressures between Tahiti and Darwin, Australia.
El Nino has been in news for long time because IMD, RBI and Economists warning about its negative impact on Indian agriculture and Indian Economy.

Basic understanding on El Nino / La Nina
During normal year two things are “STRONG”
•             Cold Peru Current
•             Trade Winds
As a result, cold water is dragged from Peru towards Australia as shown in the following image. Owing to the above current & trade winds two cycles are created as given in the table below the image. In above image, the red (warm) water region around Australia is called Western Pacific Pool (WPP). In the years of La Nina the above two currents become more pronounced and it results in more rains and even floods in Australia and South East Asian Countries and also results over supply of fishes in Peru region.
During the El Nino the above currents (Cold Peru Current & Trade Winds) become weak. As result, cold water is not dragged from Peru to Australia. But reverse happens – warm water is dragged from Australia towards Peru. Consequently, warm water + low pressure condition develops in the Eastern Pacific (Peru) and Cold condition + high pressure in Western Pacific (Australia).
Since Pressure is inversely related with amount of rainfall, the results are following:
•Warming of Pacific Ocean near Western coast of Peru and Ecuador. It Occurs @every 3-4 years; [In theory, it should occur @every 12 years]
•Its impact usually lasts for 9-12-18-24 months.
•It weakens the trade winds and changes in Southern Oscillation, thereby affects the rainfall pattern across the world.
Effect of the development in the Pacific Ocean results in the weakening of the trade winds and changes in Southern Oscillation, thereby affects the rainfall pattern.

Impact of Southern Oscillation
El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) water circulation happens between Australia and Peru But the wind movement is part of larger atmospheric circulation hence affects the rainfall over India. El Niño years directly impact India’s agrarian economy as their effect tends to lower the production of summer crops such as rice, sugarcane and oilseeds. This in return causes inflation to surge and lowers the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). India is the second largest producer of rice and wheat in the world.
How does it affect India and World?
  • Drought condition decreases the agriculture output, leads to food inflation.
  • Declined supply of cotton, oilseeds and sugarcane negatively affects the textile, edible oil and food processing industries respectively.

  • Drought situation over South East Asia and Australia hurts rice and wheat cultivation respectively.
  • Warm condition over Peru coast: unsuitable for Plankton population, thus bad for fishing industry. Birds migrate in search of fishes, thus less guano dropping for Fertilizer industry in Peru and Ecuador.
  • Flood situation in South America & US Midwest lead to decline in coffee-cocoa and corn-wheat production respectively.
El Nino Phenomenon in India
According to Historical data of 126 years (1880-2005), about 90 per cent of all evolving El Niño years have led to below normal rainfall and 65 per cent of evolving El Niño years has brought droughts. However, one thing is clear that El Niño years do affect the weather in India in terms of Monsoon rain. During this time, the rainfall is generally below normal, which has its bearing on crop production. Here is a list of droughts taken place in India in last two centuries. Some of these have been an outcome of the El Niño phenomenon.

Latest Developments

The effect of monsoon rains in the food grains output of the country can be clearly seen from the above table and figure. The monsoon in year 2014 was almost 88.00 per cent to the normal monsoon in 2014-15 and most of the crops exceeded their estimated targets of production and as a result we received a record food grain production of above 250 million MT. The monsoon was declared as failure in the year 2012 by the central government and the effect of deficient monsoon is clearly visible for the gap between the target and the expected production levels in major crops. Since similar situation in the monsoon is expected in the recent times, there are ample reasons for us to fear for the lower production. The pre-monsoon development of the current year is closely in lines with the situation in 2009 & 2012, where the western disturbance has been stronger than other years.

Major Statistics of Foodgrain Production and Stocks
In the above figure, an attempt has been made to find the link between the total foodgrains production, the percentage of irrigated land and the stocks in hand of the government to cope up with the adverse climatic/ production scenario. The data represented in the above graph is between 1976 and 2014. The Red Ovals in the plot marks the drought year (as declared by All India Summer Monsoon Rainfall, Department of Agriculture & Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, and Government of India). The Identified drought years are 1979, 1982, 1986, 1987, 2002, 2004, 2009, 2012 and 2014 (Partial). In almost all the drought years the production of foodgrains had come down. The percentage irrigated land in the country is almost constant (about 46.4 per cent) for the last 12 to 15 years. The foodgrains stocks in the hand of the government has also shown declining trend in the corresponding draught years.
The status of the foodgrain production in the drought years in comparison to the preceding normal year on monsoon is shown in the following table.

From the above table it can be inferred that the production of foodgrains has declined in the drought year. The growth of the irrigated area has been evenly paced with marginal dips in the drought years. The pressure has been noticed in case of the procurement of foodgrains by the government agencies which have declined in almost every drought. The major reason identified for the drought in the country between 1979- 2002 is been the El-Nino (the basic description of which has been given in the earlier text). Important geological facts regarding Indian drought has been mentioned in the following text box which we feel is of prime importance if we have to discuss the overall performance of the agriculture sector. 
The pattern and the progress of monsoon and its comparison to the total foodgrain production over the years in the country could be analyzed from the following figure.

Progress of Foodgrain Production & Developments in Monsoon Rain Distribution

Impact of Monsoon on Indian Economy

A good monsoon helps drive up rural spending on goods, such as gold and consumer durables, boosting manufacturing and economic activity. When rain dependent farm output is robust, rural spending goes up on major consumer durables. This creates demand for the manufactured goods, which in turn helps the general economy. On the reverse side, if the monsoon is inadequate, it puts pressure on the country’s economy as government has to borrow more in order to mitigate the effect of drought and to support the farmers’ income.

Major development in Climate Changes which has raised concerns over 2015-16 Monsoon
  • The Australian Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology's Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) dropped to -11.2 in March from 0.6 in February. A sustained SOI reading below -8 indicates El Nino conditions. The bureau has raised the possibility of El Nino conditions developing this year to at least 70 percent from 50 percent earlier (declared in March).
  • Nomura (Japanese brokerage firm) has also stated that the El Nino risks for this year is rising in India and it could result in sub-par rains, hurting rural demand and food inflation in the country. As per Nomura, a third consecutive bad agricultural season could severely impact rural incomes in India, force the government to announce higher Minimum Support Prices and possibly push food inflation temporarily higher.
  • We are already into an El Nino phase as reported by Damodar S Pai, lead monsoon forecaster at India Meteorological Department.
  • The chances of El Nino occurring in 2015 have increased. Ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific continue to be warmer than average, trade winds remain weaker than average, and all models surveyed suggest further ocean warming will occur.
  • Ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific continue to be warmer than average, trade winds remain weaker than average, and all models surveyed suggest further ocean warming likely to continue.
  • The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have also predicted the likelihood of an El Nino event this year with at least a 70 per cent chance.
  • The month of March was also ranked warmest by NCDC in a record dating back 136 years. The Japan Meteorological Agency concurs, whereas NASA, which does its own independent analysis, ranked March as third warmest.
  • On April 9, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officially declared a strong El Niño advisory reflecting substantially above-average surface sea temperatures forming across the equatorial Pacific. This means that there is a 60 to 70 percent probability that America could experience a monster winter like the El Niño that hit in 1997-1998, causing torrential rains in the Southeast, ice storms in the Northeast, tornadoes in Florida, and mass flooding in California.
  • NOAA emphasized that their El Niño forecast is supported by the increase in subsurface temperatures, enhanced convection over the Date Line, and the increased persistence of low-level westerly wind anomalies which has caused wide spread rains in India in the last couple of months.
  • El Niño brings areas of low pressure and increased rainfall to the west coasts of North and South America (including California), according to Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
  • Normally, the trade winds along the equator blow in the opposite direction. This helps bottle up warm surface waters in the western part of the tropical Pacific. But here, they’ve reversed, helping warm water to flow toward the east which confirms the presence of El Niño.

The food production trend over the years have been upside barring few down’s due to weather woes, which is positive for the country. The major slump in the production was seen in 2002-03 which was a severe drought year. The same trend was noticed for the year 2009-10. The point of concern is the distribution of rainfall. From the above figure it is evident that the number of districts with normal to excess rainfall is declining as the years are passing. If the same trend continues for another decade or so the threat of drought occurring in the country would increase immensely and hence only 46.4 per cent of the total cultivated area has good irrigation facilities, the Indian agriculture may be heading towards much stiffer challenges. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Copper Feels the Heat of Chinese Dilemma

The world market is now looking closely at India for signs of a strong pickup in demand. Higher investments in power generation as envisaged in the recent Budget 2015-16 are seen as positive signals for an uptick in demand. Although for the present Indian consumption is way below that of China’s, in the next couple of years, demand growth is set to gather pace with policy emphasis and higher outlay for power generation and infrastructure sector. Copper is an essential industrial metal used worldwide with in construction and because of its electrical properties. Copper prices are widely followed in the commodity sector and are followed in financial markets around the globe. Copper mined in open mines around the world, with Chile and the United States leading in overall copper production. The demand for copper is increasing on account underlying growth in countries such as China and India even while the supply remains tight. The growing demand and constrained supply is likely to keep copper prices volatile in the near future.

The supply side of copper continues to be robust and the global market expected to spend the calendar year 2015 as a year of surplus supplies. The development in the mining sector has been significant. Adding support to the price is the closure of World’s third largest copper mine in Indonesia owing to labour disputes. The recent torrential rains and power outage in parts of Chile have disrupted mining operations in the Atacama Desert region which is home to over half of Chile’s copper mines and accounts for close to two-third of national production. Chile accounts for close to 6 million MT of mined copper output annually, which is nearly a third of the global output. Disruption to communication lines has exacerbated the situation. According to experts, one week’s disruption would mean loss of 70,000 MT output. 

Apart from details of Chile and Indonesia, global mine production is estimated to have increased by around 1.3 per cent (233,000 MT) to 18.3 million MT in 2014 compared with that in 2013. Concentrate production has increased by 1 per cent to 125,000 MT while concentrate by solvent extraction electro-winning process increased by 2.8 per cent to 108,000 MT. In 2014 production remained essentially unchanged in Chile and in Peru - the 1st and 3rd world biggest copper mine producers - and it declined by 26 per cent in Indonesia, where production through August remained constrained by the ban on concentrates exports; by 7 per cent in Zambia owing to an operational failure at the Lumwana mine and lower production at other mines; by 3 per cent in Australia owing to the temporary closure of two mines and by 28 per cent in Papua New Guinea, where the Tedi mine was constrained by a landslide and heavy rains. However, production increased by 8 per cent in the United States, 8 per cent in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), 7 per cent in Mexico, 10 per cent in Canada, 8 per cent in Brazil and 34 per cent in Mongolia. 

China is crucial to the whole picture and accounts for about 45 per cent of global demand for copper. The metal’s wide ranges of uses for wiring, piping and in general industry make it essential for developing economies, where focus continues on infrastructure growth. Although China is still growing faster than industrialized nations such as Britain and US, its growth is nevertheless slowing and fears of a hard landing remain. Growth last year is expected to have been less than 7.5 per cent, missing Beijing’s target for the first time since 1998. In spite of missing the growth target the demand for copper is not likely to shrink by major quantum, as the scale of operation in China is too huge compared to other demanding countries. China still continues to import copper from world market, though with reduced aggression and this is one of the major reasons that China continues to be the centre points of all global activity concerning copper. 

China’s copper imports in February tumbled by the most in four years. China’s imports of scrap copper, the feedstock for one-third of the country’s production of the metal, are unlikely to rebound from a 10-year low as U.S. supplies remain tight. Industries that provide the bulk of recycled material in the U.S., the biggest exporter of scrap metal to China, have not yet recovered sufficiently to improve supply. Scrap copper imports by the country, which accounts for about half the world’s copper consumption, fell to the least since 2004 last year as the economy expanded at the slowest pace since 1990. Scrap metal is the feed-stock for about one third of China’s copper production.

China's economy is growing at its slowest pace in 24 years in 2014 as property prices have cooled and companies and local governments are struggling under heavy debt burdens, keeping pressure on Beijing to take aggressive steps to avoid a sharper downturn. End-users in China, the world's top consumer and producer of refined copper, typically increase purchases around the second quarter to support higher production as the summer approaches in anticipation of some aggressive support from the government. 

A weaker U.S. currency makes dollar-denominated assets such as metals cheaper for buyers holding other currencies. The sentiments were also boosted on back of the expectations that China would continue with the initiative of building infrastructure, thereby increasing its demand for copper. The other supporting news in the market is the activity in China's factory sector that has dipped to 11 month low in March 2015, is signalling persistent weakness in the world's second-largest economy. This is ringing more alarming bells for its Central Bank to come up with yet another stimulus programme, which is supportive for the industrial metals, especially copper. Away from China, the U.S. recovery has been gathering pace, with the country likely to want more red metal and the fresh stimulus announced by the ECB is turning out to be an aid of the last resort for the Eurozone economies.

As reported in the above text the refined copper market is likely to have supply surplus for the whole of 2015 as the mini-boom in the copper mining industry continues. LME inventories remain at their lowest levels, but we shouldn’t pay attention to this since inventories have been falling with prices since their peak in mid-2013. Copper’s plunge mirrors losses across commodities as a decade-long bull market led companies to boost production and the Federal Reserve debates when to raise interest rates. Because copper lacks strong fundamentals, we wouldn’t expect copper to make significant moves upward but at the same time a significant plunge in the prices from current levels is not expected. Amidst growing uncertainties the copper market is trying to find new equilibrium in between the lows. In spite of the slowdown is Chinese economy, it is likely to consume 4.9 per cent more copper than last year. We feel that as the crude oil (WTI) stabilises in the range of USD 55-65 per barrel in couple of months’ time, the copper would find its next equilibrium and the tend to move northward from there. Thus, we feel that the uptrend in copper would start towards end of 2nd quarter of 2015.

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