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NZ lamb and sheepskin face 'lose-lose' on over-supply

NZ lambskin, sheepskin face 'lose-lose' with over-supply, weak demand

By Tina Morrison

June 22 (BusinessDesk) - New Zealand exports of sheepskin and lambskin, at their lowest level in more than four years, are unlikely to recover any time soon as a glut of excess stock and weak demand weigh on prices.

The value of raw sheepskin and lambskin exports fell to $128.6 million in the year through April, the 15th straight decline in annual exports and the lowest level since January 2011, according to Statistics New Zealand data. The latest figures, for May, will be published on Friday.

The market for skins has slumped after tougher environmental regulations led to the shutdown in April 2014 of many tanneries in China, where New Zealand sells as much as 60 percent of its lambskins. Weaker consumer spending in China and trade sanctions on Russia also hurt demand in key leather markets.

“While the tanneries are starting to get back into action now, there’s still huge amounts of product that is sitting there trying to get through the works,” said Rachel Agnew, an agricultural analyst at AgriHQ's iFarm. “You are talking about an oversupply of product still waiting to be processed that no one really wants on the global market.”

The price for lambskins has halved from the start of last year to about US$50 a dozen from US$95 a dozen, Agnew said.

Compounding the problem further, New Zealand had a higher-than-normal lamb slaughter at the tail end of the season, leaving processors with even more skins.

Many farmers had held onto their lambs for longer in anticipation processors would raise prices near the end of the season as they traditionally compete for supply to fill orders. However, weak global demand kept a lid on prices and farmers were forced to offload their stock as pasture growth slowed heading into winter.

“We’ve never seen a year where prices didn’t increase from about mid-May, but this year we are perhaps even looking at some decreases in schedules, which is pretty scary for some sheep farmers,” Agnew said.

“They have no choice but to get rid of them and so they’ve just pressed the offload button and they’re all hitting the works all at the same time so it’s a bit of a lose-lose situation you could say because the processors don’t really want them and farmers aren’t really making any money from them.

“Global markets for lamb are very, very depressed at the moment and so no company actually wants to pay any more for the lamb.”

Lamb inventories are high following a record Australian slaughter and after a mild winter boosted UK production, while demand remains weak, Agnew said.

Some processors are holding onto the skins, waiting for prices to recover, while others are selling at lower prices, she said.

“It won’t help that New Zealand is going to have a little bit of extra product to try and get rid of as well as what they had in inventories,” Agnew said. “Because there is so much raw product waiting to be processed in New Zealand, New Zealand companies are trying to get rid of the stock at quite lower prices so that’s not helping that price either.”


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