Palm Oil Becomes Costliest Vegoil as Ukraine War Halts Sunoil Supply

Palm Oil Becomes Costliest Vegoil as Ukraine War Halts Sunoil Supply
A worker holds palm oil fruits while posing for a picture at an oil palm plantation in Slim River, Malaysia, on Aug. 12, 2021. (Lim Huey Teng/Reuters)

MUMBAI— Palm oil has become the costliest among the four major edible oils for the first time as buyers rush to secure replacements for sunflower oil shipments from the top exporting Black Sea region that was disrupted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Palm oil’s record premium over rival oils could squeeze price-sensitive Asian and African consumers already reeling from spiraling fuel and food costs, and force them to curtail consumption and shift to rival soy oil, dealers said.

Crude palm oil (CPO) is being offered at about $1,925 a tonne, including cost, insurance and freight (CIF), in India for March shipments, compared with $1,865 for crude soybean oil.

Crude rapeseed oil was offered at around $1,900, while traders were not offering crude sunflower oil as ports are closed due to the Ukraine crisis.

Palm oil vaults to a historic premium over soy oil in India, sparking shifts in buying patterns

The Black Sea accounts for 60 percent of world sunflower oil output and 76 percent of exports. Ports in Ukraine will remain closed until the invasion ends.

“Asian and European refiners have raised palm oil purchases for near-month shipments to replace sun oil. This buying has lifted palm oil to an irrational price level,” said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trading firm.

“They have the option of buying soy oil as well. But prompt soy oil shipments are limited and they take much longer to land in Asia compared to palm oil,” he said.

Soybean production in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay is expected to fall because of dry weather.

Price-sensitive Asian buyers traditionally relied on palm oil because of low costs and quick shipping times, but now they are paying more than $50 per tonne premium over soy oil and sun oil, said a Kuala Lumpur-based edible oil dealer.

Palm oil’s price premium is temporary, however, and could fade in the next few weeks as buyers shift to soy oil for April shipments, the dealer said.

Most of the incremental demand for palm oil is fulfilled by Malaysia, as Indonesia has put restrictions on the exports, said an Indian refiner.

“Malaysian stocks are depleting fast because of the surge in demand. It is the biggest beneficiary of the current geopolitical situation,” he said.

By Rajendra Jadhav