European Union grain exporters will be the main beneficiaries of Russia's pullback from international grain markets as Moscow races to cool domestic prices in the face of economic crisis, analysts and traders said.
Russia, one of the world's leading grain suppliers, is restricting exports as plunging oil prices and Western sanctions hammer the rouble, pushing up inflation. The latest curb is a cut in railway loadings of grain for export.
The EU, already on course to a second season of record wheat exports, should take over many of Russia's markets, with favourable exchange rates helping member countries to move their hefty harvests.
That prospect sent Euronext futures to more than 7-month highs in early trade on Thursday, with benchmark March rising 4.9 percent to 209.50 euros. It has gained 37 percent since hitting four-year lows on Sept. 26.
"At current prices, it's clearly European wheat that will benefit," Andree Defois, head analyst at French consultancy Strategie Grains said, while noting other major exporters such as Australia, Canada and Argentina would also see new opportunities.
She estimated that Europe could snap up two out of the 3-4 million tonnes of Russian exports that analysts estimate could be hit by the restrictions. Strategie Grains forecast EU soft wheat exports in 2014/15 at 27 million tonnes before the latest news on Russian curbs.
"For Polish, Hungarian, German wheat, and even Romanian and Bulgarian wheat if there is some left, it's friendly news," James Dunsterville, analyst with Geneva-based AgFlow, said.
France, traditionally the EU's largest exporter of wheat, should also benefit but to a lesser extent due to a drop in quality this season.
By contrast U.S. grain is currently priced out of most of Russia's traditional markets. At the last tender by Egypt, the world's top importer and the second largest buyer of Russian wheat, French was offered at more than $23 a tonne below the equivalent U.S. variety, including freight.
Egypt said it was confident Russia would honor all its wheat import contracts and would continue to include Russian wheat as an origin in its international tenders. But traders were wary, as it was not clear whether Egypt was included in the Russian curbs, none of which have officially been announced.
"The next Egyptian tender will show whether Egypt has decided to trust Russia or whether supplies will be diversified with a larger range of purchases," a German trader said.
Ukraine, the other major key player in the Black Sea region, should also see a boost in prices and demand but any benefit would be capped by a lack of export availability.
The country has planned to export 9-10 million tonnes of wheat this season, of which 7.75 million tonnes had already been shipped.
"Not all demand will necessarily come to our market. We'll have to see over a few days how the global market reacts and where prices go," Ukrainian Deputy Agriculture Minister Andriy Dykun told Reuters.
Southern hemisphere exporters were also likely to step into some of Russia's markets, especially in Asia where they have a freight advantage.
"Russian feed grain sales to South Korea, Indonesia and Thailand will give Australia and South American suppliers greater chance for sales than previously expected," a trader said.
Argentina, which approved last week 1 million tonnes of 2014/15 wheat for export in addition to the 1.5 million cleared last month, could also win some markets in Africa.