Cocoa market rocked by Ivory Coast ban

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Soaring prices mean a worried cocoa market has got the message from the internationally-recognised winner of Ivory Coast's presidential election on halting exports, analysts said Tuesday.

The price of cocoa rose to a six-month high Monday after Alassane Ouattara ordered exports halted for a month to put pressure on former president Laurent Gbagbo, the incumbent who is refusing to stand aside.

Despite Gbagbo's insistence that the move would have no effect, the decision by the west African country, which produces a third of the world's cocoa, has rocked the markets.

The price of a tonne of cocoa jumped seven percent to $3,393 on Monday in New York, its highest level for a year, while it reached a six-month high of £2,307 in London.

While prices fell Tuesday, down to $3,344 in New York at 1745 GMT, the turbulence shows that buyers have little choice but to respect the international consensus that Ouattara won the November 28 elections.

Kona Haque, a London-based analyst at Australian bank Macquarie, said that even though Ouattara had yet to actually take the reins of the presidency, the cocoa market had sat up and taken note of his decision to halt exports.

"It will definitely have a near-term impact because that means for a month we could see sharply reduced supply from Ivory Coast," she told AFP.

"Most of the big trading houses and the big cocoa producing companies would probably want to pay attention to what Ouattara said because if Ouattara is going to be president, they don't want to be on the wrong side of him."

The analyst said that with the Easter period approaching when demand for chocolate is high, confectioners "will try to buy as much cocoa they can and that will push prices up.

"But other grinders who are already well-covered and anticipated this supply ban, they should be okay."

Other analysts were less convinced of the effect of the export ban.

Laurent Pipitone, of the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), said: "For the time being, (Ouattara's) order is for a limited period and it is difficult to judge how far this order will be respected."

Two bodies representing the industry, the Federation of Cocoa Commerce and the European Cocoa Association, have published a joint declaration expressing their concerns, saying the unstable situation in Ivory Coast had created "a very testing environment for the cocoa trade."

The bodies said they were still seeking "further clarification" of the situation.

Cargill, the US-based agribusiness company which dominates cocoa trading in the Ivory Coast, has "temporarily suspended" cocoa bean purchases, according to a report in Britain's Financial Times newspaper on Tuesday.

Contacted by AFP on Tuesday, a Cargill spokesman refused to deny or confirm the report.

Another major player, Switzerland-based Barry Callebaut, was similarly cautious, saying it too was "seeking clarification of the situation in cooperation with the relevant industry associations."

Company spokesman Raphael Wermuth added: "We have bought and exported most of the necessary beans we planned and need for our own processing needs.

"Our factories and stock levels are sufficient to cover all our current needs."

© 2011 AFP

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