By Maytaal Angel and Marcelo Teixeira
LONDON (Reuters) -Global cocoa prices hit fresh record highs on Thursday as traders continued to scramble for supplies, predicting ever wider deficits this season and with concerns growing for the next.
The surge in prices is filtering through to retail shelves, with Hershey expecting to see a further slowdown in demand for its products from cash conscious customers after its sales volumes slid 6.6% in the fourth quarter.
The chocolate major, shares of which are down some 30% from a May 2023 peak, also said earlier that it expects the higher cocoa prices to limit its earnings growth this year.
Volumes at its rival, Cadbury maker Mondelez, also fell last quarter.
“Going back 47 years, almost every major price blip was followed by a massive 20-50% price break, within one to two years. Is this situation different? According to my sources in the cocoa bush of West Africa…YES!” said Jim Roemer, meteorologist and commodity trading advisor at Best Weather Inc.
“At least for now, a squeeze situation may well continue for another month or two,” he added, citing current damage to the cocoa crop from strong Harmattan winds in top producing region West Africa.
Benchmark London cocoa futures hit a record 4,670 pounds a metric ton during the session at ICE exchange on Thursday, before closing at 4,660 pounds/ton, gaining 7.3% in the day. Prices have roughly doubled since the start of last year.
In New York, benchmark ICE cocoa futures hit a new all-time high of $5,874 a ton, closing up 7.3% at $5,805, having risen about 90% since the start of last year.
Exporters and pod counters in No. 2 cocoa producer Ghana told Reuters output for the current 2023-24 season is expected to reach just 475,000-500,000 tons versus 655,000 last year.
Last week, a Reuters cocoa poll forecast a global deficit of 375,000 tons in the 2023/24 season, more than double the average view in the previous poll in August, and indicating a third successive supply deficit for the market.
An industry source told Reuters that traders feared the shortage will extend into next year, with missing volumes from this season’s crop having to be filled with beans from the next.
“What happens if the crop is poor next season?” he asked.
In other soft commodities, raw sugar rose 0.4% to 23.98 cents per lb, while white sugar gained 1.4% to $665.70 a ton.
Arabica coffee fell 1.1% to $1.8585 per lb and robusta coffee lost 0.2% to $3,109 a ton.
(Reporting by Maytaal Angel and Marcelo Teixeira; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Shinjini Ganguli)
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