(Bloomberg) -- China is sending record quantities of soybean meal abroad, as a shrinking number of pigs and weak demand for pork force processors to export their surplus animal feed.

The unusual sales are yet another sign of how China’s stuttering economy is curbing domestic consumption and upending trade flows. The nation dominates global agricultural markets as an importer, with a lot of activity centered around feeding its enormous hog herd and putting enough pork on the table for hundreds of millions of households. 

To that end, China relies on vast amounts of soybeans from South America and the US, which are crushed into meal for livestock and oil for cooking. But cash-strapped shoppers aren’t spending like they used to, and farmers have reduced their herds because prices are too low.

That’s left local soymeal prices hovering around three-year lows. Exports, meanwhile, climbed to almost 600,000 tons in the first four months of 2024, which is nearly five times the level of the previous year. Destinations include nearby Japan but also far-flung countries like the UK.

Read More: China’s Distressed Pig Farmers Eye Turnaround as Herd Shrinks

Still, China’s emergence will only put a little dent in demand for soymeal from the top South American exporters. Both Argentina and Brazil shipped more than 20 million tons last year.

As such, whether Chinese exports can stay at current levels depends heavily on both soymeal prices and soybean supplies in those countries, as well as the impact of fewer pigs in China. 

The nation’s soybean imports typically climb in the middle of the year. In addition, Chinese crushers will be looking at the affects of heavy rains on the South American crop, as well as rising tensions with the US, as reasons to keep purchases elevated and create a buffer in case supplies dwindle later in the year. 

On the Wire

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A bad April for the yuan has turned into a worse May, with its failure to rebound amid broad dollar weakness a warning sign that bearish sentiment risks snowballing.

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This Week’s Diary

(All times Beijing unless noted.)

Thursday, May 30:

  • Nothing major scheduled

Friday, May 24:

  • China’s official PMIs for May, 09:30
  • China weekly iron ore port stockpiles
  • Shanghai exchange weekly commodities inventory, ~15:30

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