A Sweet Trade

Chocolates, the word itself is enough to elevate the mood because almost everyone loves them. Therefore, along with sweetening the taste buds, we have searched for a trade that is likely to sweeten the portfolio in the medium-term.

Key points

  1. Cocoa prices are quoting near multi-year lows due to over supply
  2. Demand for cocoa products, however, remains strong
  3. History shows that cocoa production is cyclic in nature
  4. The top two producers are taking steps to support prices and avoid a glut in the future
  5. The risk to reward ratio looks attractive for a long-term trade

Cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate making is quoting near its yearly low. However, we believe that the bottom is in place and cocoa is likely to rally in the medium-term.

What are the uses of cocoa

Cocoa is derived from the cocoa bean and has a history of more than 5000 years. Cocoa is mainly used for making chocolates and its derivatives, something that everybody loves.

So, when cocoa is used for making such a popular product, why is its price quoting near yearly lows?

Price of every commodity is determined by the dynamics of demand and supply. In the case of cocoa, let’s see whether people have suddenly started disliking chocolates or are farmers growing cocoa in large quantities, causing a supply glut.

Chocolate consumption and cocoa production details

Source: Statista.com

The retail consumption of chocolate confectionery globally has seen a gradual uptrend from about 6.946 million tons in 2012/2013 to about 7.3 million tons in 2015/2016. The growth is likely to continue and consumption is expected to reach 7.696 million tons by 2018/2019, according to Statista.com. Between 2007 to 2015, the chocolate market had a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of +2.3%, according to IndexBox.

Who were the major consumers?

In terms of total consumption, US is the clear leader followed by the UK and France. The world’s top two most populated nations, India and China are far behind. This shows that there is enough scope of growth.

But, is there any proof to show that chocolates have attracted new enjoyers other than the traditional consumers?

To understand this, let’s look at the per capita consumption.

Traditionally, Europe has been a large consumer of chocolates. In 2015, Switzerland was the global leader with a per capita consumption of 8.8 kilograms, closely followed by Germany at 8.4 kilograms. However, according to global market intelligence agency Mintel, sales were flat in the US, UK, Germany, and France between 2015 and 2016.

Nevertheless, while the traditional consumers are plateauing, new consumers are warming up to chocolates and its derivatives.

Russia’s cocoa consumption had an annual growth of 18.1% between 2007 and 2015, which has propelled its per capita consumption to 7.3 kilograms, the third highest in the world.

Similarly, the analysts now expect India to provide the next leg of growth. From 2015 to 2016, India’s chocolate confectionery in retail markets grew by 13%. It is not a one-off growth number because between 2011 to 2015, India recorded a CAGR of 19.9% and the growth is only expected to improve to a CAGR of 20.6% between 2016 to 2020, according to Mintel.

So, it is safe to assume that the growth in chocolate sales is likely to continue for the next few years. Now, let’s look at the supply picture.

Who are the major suppliers of cocoa in the world?

While cocoa consumption is a feature around the world, the production is concentrated in West Africa, which produces about 70% of the world’s cocoa. The world leader in production is Côte d’Ivoire, which alone produces about 30% of the total global production.

The next largest producer is Ghana, which accounts for above 20% of the world’s cocoa production. Third is Indonesia, which is comparatively a newcomer to the group. However, its farms are being infested by the ‘pod bearer insect’, which has resulted in poor roots and poor-quality cocoa bean, severely limiting their rise as a cocoa superpower.

Cocoa bean production over the past decade?

Similar to the consumption of chocolates, cocoa production has increased sharply over the past decade. However, the rise has not been constant. 2010/11 and 2013/14 were bumper years, which were followed by a dip in the following two years.

Including the forecast for 2016/17, there have been five years when production increased, while production fell in the other five years. Nevertheless, the percentage of rise during the up years has been greater than the fall during down years, therefore, production has more or less kept up pace with the increased consumption of cocoa-based products.

The cocoa market keeps shifting from surplus to deficit, as seen in the chart above. Therefore, it is safe to assume that the markets will again fall into a deficit, which will be bullish for cocoa prices. Let’s see the supply and consumption pattern for this year.

So, what is the latest demand and supply situation?

In 2016/17, the International Cocoa Organization expects the global production to increase sharply over 2015/2016, contributing to a global surplus of 371,000 tonnes. A bumper crop in West Africa is likely to keep prices depressed in the near term. Ivory Coast’s bean arrival at the ports from the start of the season to August 20, was 12.6% higher than the previous year.

As a result, Rabobank believes cocoa prices are unlikely to rally a lot above $2000 per MT in the short-term, however, they are bullish in the long-term due to increasing demand.

“The further we go in time, the more bullish our forecast gets,” said Carlos Mera, a commodities analyst with the bank, reports confectionerynews.

In September, the ICCO said: “Major chocolate manufacturers have generally reported improved sales volumes and the low international cocoa beans price is anticipated to encourage cocoa processing activities.”

The sales of candy in the US was up 1.4% year over year and the trend was showing signs of improvement, as the latest four weeks sales increased 2.8% year over year, according to IRI/Bloomberg Intelligence, the Morningstar reported on August 25.

Low prices are pinching the major producers

Ivory Coast and Ghana, which account for over 60% of the global supply of cocoa are struggling due to the fall in cocoa prices. Therefore, they plan to build warehouses to stock the beans during bumper crop season and release them in the market, according to the demand, thereby increasing their influence over cocoa pricing.

“Must we continue on this path, flooding the market with beans in abundance and driving down prices to the detriment of our economies and people? We don’t think so,” said Narcisse Sepy Yessoh, chief of staff to Ivory Coast Trade Minister Souleymane Diarrassouba, reports Reuters.

They have sought a loan of $1.2 billion from the African Development Bank for the above activity, which is likely to be approved by the end of this year and the stocking is likely to start in the 2018/2019 season.

This will put a floor beneath cocoa prices in the medium-term.

How does the technical picture look?

The long-term chart of cocoa futures shows a trading range between $1800 to $3400. This is a well-defined range. An attempt to breakout the range failed in 2011, similarly, attempts to breakdown of the range failed between May and July of this year.

The risk to reward ratio to play the range is attractive. We have a well-defined stop loss below the lows of the range, whereas, our target objective is a rally back to the upper end of the range. However, it will be difficult for the readers to hold cocoa futures for the long-term. Therefore, the next best way is to play it through the two available ETNs, NIB and CHOC.

As NIB is more liquid, we prefer to invest in it. Let’s look at its chart.

Unlike cocoa futures, NIB broke below the lows made in end-2011 and formed a new low at $21.17. It has formed a bearish descending triangle pattern, which will complete on a close below the $21.17 levels. Therefore, we shall initiate 50% of our trade when NIB breaks out of the triangle and 50% of the positions on dips. Let’s determine the specific levels from the daily charts.

NIB has fallen below the $22 levels four times since May of this year. The downtrend line has been a major hurdle to cross. On Friday, NIB again returned from the downtrend line. Therefore, if it again falls closer to $22 levels, a long position with 50% allocation can be initiated. The remaining 50% position can be initiated on a breakout of the descending triangle pattern. The positions can be closed if NIB breaks down and closes below 21 for three days in a row. Once NIB breaks out of $27 levels, its next technical target is $33, though its long-term target remains $45.


Rakesh Upadhyay is a Technical Analyst and Portfolio Consultant for The Summit Group. He has more than a decade of experience as a private trader. His philosophy is to use technical analysis for momentum trading and fundamental analysis for long-term positions. Rakesh likes to keep himself fit by lifting weights and considers himself to be a spiritual person.