July 30 (Reuters) - U.S. exporters need not worry that forward sales of soybeans to be harvested this autumn are off to the slowest start in six years as top importer China will considerably accelerate its purchases in the fourth quarter, the chief executive of Bunge Ltd said on Thursday.
Chinese imports of South American soybeans have shattered records in recent months, but the country's soy crush margins, although volatile, remain positive so importer demand should remain strong, Soren Schroder said.
"Three months of record imports by China means that they're sitting on comfortable inventories and are therefore not in a hurry to go out and forward-buy a lot of beans," he said in an interview with Reuters.
"But I think when we get to October, November, December, the Chinese will be there in style."
Chinese crush margins are expected to be around $15 per tonne in the second half of the year, down from about $30 in the first half but above last year's break-even to negative margins, he said.
Total new-crop U.S. soybean export sales as of last Thursday are down 50 percent from the same time last year, largely due to ample global supplies following massive harvests in Brazil and Argentina.
The lagging export sales pace has weighed on new-crop soybean futures on the Chicago Board of Trade.
Competition from Brazilian and Argentine soy is likely to keep a lid on early-season shipments of U.S. beans, which normally start flowing into the global market in late September. But U.S. shipments should rebound soon after and finish the Sept 2015/Aug 2016 season only slightly below the 2014/15 total, Schroder said.
Bunge reported disappointing second-quarter results on Thursday, citing poor oilseed margins in Canada and Europe and weak demand for its food products in recession-hit Brazil. But the company forecast a rebound in the back half of the year, partly due to solid soy processing margins in China.
The company's shares closed down more than 5 percent. (Reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago; Editing by James Dalgleish)