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November exports continue to lag

Alan Levitt

U.S. exports in November were just $377.3 million, down 24 percent from the previous year, and the lowest value figure in nearly five years. Shipments of nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) and lactose continued to track slightly higher than the previous year, but cheese and whey exports have fallen into a lower gear, and sales of butterfat, WMP and MPC have dwindled to negligible levels.  

Exporters moved 42,602 tons of NDM/SMP in November, up 1 percent from the year before. This brought the year-to-date total to 513,536 tons, slightly ahead of 2014's pace. Almost half of November sales went to Mexico (21,273 tons). In addition, exports to Peru were a record-high 2,370 tons. Sales to Southeast Asia were up 14 percent in November, but year-to-date shipments were still off 12 percent from 2014.

Exports of lactose were up 15 percent in November, with gains to most major destinations.

Most other categories continued the trends of prior months.

Cheese exports were 22,895 tons, down 7 percent from prior year. Volume has now trailed year-ago levels for 14 straight months. Shipments to Mexico were up 5 percent, but this was more than offset by significant declines in sales to South Korea (-35 percent) and Japan (-20 percent).

Total whey exports were just 30,308 tons, the lowest since July 2010. In the last three months, dry whey exports averaged less than 12,000 tons per month - a significant drop from the pace of the previous four years, when dry whey exports averaged nearly 20,000 tons per month. In 2015, dry whey exports will be the lowest since 2004.

WPC exports were down 5 percent in the first 11 months of the year. WPC exports had increased six years in a row prior to 2015. WPI exports, on the other hand, will finish with a record high in 2015, though volumes have dropped significantly in the second half of the year. In the July-November period, WPI exports were down 18 percent vs. prior year.

Whey export declines are mostly due to a slowdown in buying from China, the largest U.S. customer. November whey sales to China were the lowest in six years, and less than half of the monthly volume posted in the second quarter of this year. Exports to Mexico also were lower in 2015 (-29 percent year-to-date), while sales to Southeast Asia were off 6 percent.

Butterfat exports were just 1,125 tons in November, down 59 percent. Shipments to the Middle East/North Africa region were only 26 tons - a sharp contrast to the 5,000 mt/month volumes shipped for most of 2013/14.  For the year, butterfat exports were on track to finish with their lowest total since 2006. Among other products, November exports of milk protein concentrate (-58 percent), whole milk powder (-73 percent) and fluid milk (-5 percent) trailed year-ago levels.

In total, U.S. suppliers shipped 136,144 tons of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey and lactose in November, down 7 percent from a year ago and down 4 percent from October (daily-average basis).

U.S. exports (on a total milk solids basis) were equivalent to 12.7 percent of U.S. milk solids production in November, the lowest since January. Imports were equivalent to 4.0 percent of production for the month.