By Roberto Samora and Ana Mano
SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil’s exports of soy and iron ore fell in the first week of February compared to a year ago, government data showed on Monday, as traders watched for signs the coronavirus outbreak in China could affect demand for Brazilian commodities.
For the first five working days of February, soybean exports declined to 198,600 tonnes per day on average from 263,500 tonnes per day for February 2019, according to Economy Ministry figures. Iron ore exports averaged 1.27 million tonnes per day for the first week of February, down from 1.4 million tonnes per day a year ago.
By contrast, Brazil’s average daily exports of meat and oil rose in the first five working days of February.
Brazilian government data does not break down exports by product for individual countries, although China is the largest buyer of Brazilian soy, iron ore, meat and oil.
“It’s still very early,” said Jose Augusto de Castro, the president of Foreign Trade Association of Brazil. “I think the impact will start from the second half of February.”
Castro said he expects to see a drop in commodity prices as a result of coronavirus and possibly volumes as well, but it is difficult to predict the scale and duration of the impact.
The outbreak has roiled the Chinese economy and society. The World Health Organization said on Monday that cases recorded outside of China could be “the spark that becomes a bigger fire.”
The outbreak is affecting several major commodities. Iron ore stocks are rising as demand falls in China. Oil prices have fallen to their lowest level in 13 months. Shipping routes are reducing calls on Chinese ports and air freight is being squeezed.
A report by Rabobank on Monday predicted that, as Chinese workers at soy crushing plants return to work after an extended Chinese New Year holiday, they would continue to import soybeans “but at a slower pace, as long as coronavirus lingers.”
Coronavirus is only likely to affect demand for grains and edible oil modestly and in the short term, as Chinese eat out less but continue to buy food staples, Rabobank said.
Bartolomeu Braz, president of Brazilian farmer association Aprosoja, said in a message on social media that more than 60% of Brazilian soy from the current crop is pre-sold, helping to cushion farmers from the impact of the coronavirus.
“This gives us breathing space until the disease is controlled,” Braz said.
(Reporting by Roberto Samora and Ana Mano in Sao Paulo; Writing by Jake Spring; editing by Grant McCool)