By Rajendra Jadhav
MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's palm oil imports in December jumped 94% from a year earlier to a record high for the month as palm oil's higher discount to rival vegetable oils led refiners to raise purchases during the seasonally weak winter period, five dealers said.
Higher imports by India, the world's biggest palm oil buyer, would help top producers Indonesia and Malaysia cut their inventories and support benchmark palm oil prices, which are trading near their highest levels in five weeks.
India's palm oil imports reached 1.1 million tonnes last month, the average estimate from five dealers with trading firms showed. The imports for December were slightly lower than November purchases of 1.14 million tonnes and compare with an all-time high of 1.26 million tonnes in September 2021.
India's palm oil imports usually moderate during winter months as the tropical oil solidifies at lower temperatures.
"The price spread between palm oil and soyoil was much wider and day by day it is getting squeezed. But still the gap is quite high compared to normal market trend," said Rajesh Patel, managing partner at GGN Research.
For December shipments, buyers mostly placed orders in November. That was when palm oil was as high as $460 per tonne cheaper than rival soyoil and sunflower oil as Indonesia was trying to reduce its stockpile, dealers said.
India's palm oil imports for the December quarter jumped 16% from the September quarter to a record 3.1 million tonnes, dealers estimate.
Palm oil's discounts to rival oils have now come down to around $300 per tonne, but still palm oil is the preferred choice of Indian buyers, said Sandeep Bajoria, chief executive of Sunvin Group, a vegetable oil brokerage and consultancy firm.
India's palm oil imports in January could come down to around 850,000 tonnes, said a Mumbai-based dealer with a global trade house.
The Solvent Extractors' Association of India, a trade body based in Mumbai, is likely to publish its December import data in the middle of January.
Soyoil imports in December fell 36% from a year earlier to 252,000 tonnes, while those of sunflower oil dropped 26% to 190,000 tonnes, the dealers said.
India buys palm oil mainly from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, while it imports soyoil and sunflower oil from Argentina, Brazil, Russia and Ukraine.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)