Poor ethanol margins delay Brazil mill projects
Fri Oct 26, 2007 9:13pm BST
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By Inae Riveras
SAO PAULO, Oct 26 (Reuters) - Tight profit margins in Brazil's ethanol
and sugar industry this year have led to delays in the projected startup
of new plants that were scheduled to come on line in the next few years,
The sector's largest groups say they are maintaining investment and
construction plans despite low sugar and ethanol prices with long-term
perspectives still promising. Equipment suppliers say that sales are
However, many industry newcomers or companies which depend on their own
cash flow to build new mills are preferring to postpone or even abandon
"Investments will slow down until a signal of market recovery appears,"
said Antonio de Padua Rodrigues, technical director from the Sugar Cane
Industry Union (Unica).
In 2006, international interest to adopt ethanol as a fossil fuel
substitute, strong sugar prices and growing demand for the biofuel in
Brazil from a growing flex-fuel car fleet caused a flood of new plant
But with ethanol and sugar prices below production costs in Brazil, the
world's most competitive producer, investors' ambitions have cooled off.
"The future pace of investments will depend on domestic demand for
ethanol, its price and on how logistics will improve to make biofuel
exports viable, especially in Goias and Mato Grosso (states in Brazil
center-west)," Padua said.
Around 138 projects were announced to come on stream in the coming years
in the center-south, according to analyst Datagro. But about 30 of them
are unlikely to materialize.
"In general terms, there was a one-to-two-year delay in the
development of these projects due to lower prices," said Datagro's
president, Plinio Nastari.
But most of the announced projects are expected to become reality,
Datagro says 79 projects out of the 138 scheduled are "highly probable."
They would represent an additional cane crushing capacity of 30.8
million tonnes in the center-south region by 2008. This would then rise
to 162.5 million tonnes by 2018.
"Prices influence those companies that depend on their existing mills'
cash flow to invest in new ones ... Large groups' projects, some of them
financed by funds, are not set by current prices," Padua said.
Brazil's largest sugar and ethanol producer, Cosan (CSAN3.SA: Quote,
Profile, Research) is one of the companies which is maintaining its
investment plans despite low margins.
Cosan raised about $1 billion through an initial public offering in New
York and Sao Paulo in August to fund expansion, and intends to invest
$1.7 billion in four years to build new mills and expand existing ones.
"Our investments will continue. We already have the money to do so, and
market perspectives remain very positive," Cosan's President Rubens
Equipment sales to mills have been on a scale not seen since the
launching of the government's Pro-ethanol Program in the 1970s,
according to suppliers. But clients appear to be increasingly cautious.
"We haven't had any impact in terms of sales yet, (but) some clients did
comment... If ethanol prices continue at these low levels, we believe
new projects, newcomers will slam on the breaks," said Jose Francisco
Davos, Dedini's business vice president.
Dedini supplies nearly all mills in Brazil with milling and cogeneration
equipment as well as technical assistance.
Check for earlier Pacific Biofuel posts: http://pacbiofuel.blogspot.com/