(Adds details, background, market comments)
By Chris Prentice
April 29 (Reuters) - U.S. ethanol exports will remain at multi-year highs this year, battling back competition from producers like Brazil as fuel demand improves, said Green Plains Inc’s chief on Wednesday, striking an upbeat tone after a rocky first quarter.
Buyers in the Philippines and India, both countries with biofuels mandates, have been inquiring about orders through 2015 and into the first quarter of next year, Todd Becker, president and chief executive officer of the Omaha, Nebraska, based producer, said during an investor call.
His comments stand in sharp contrast to mounting worries from U.S. exporters, with inventories at three-year highs. Some exporters said shipments to India will dry up next month, after some orders were canceled or washed-out in the opening months of the year and as Brazil enters its harvest.
India, though only the No 7 importer of U.S. ethanol last year, is a burgeoning market, where buyers import for chemical and industrial uses when local gallons fall short.
But Green Plains expects U.S. ethanol to retain its advantage over Brazil amid signs the greenback’s rally is waning. The two countries have been jockeying for sales this year, especially as Brazil’s weakened real left their cane-produced biofuel near parity with corn-based U.S. ethanol.
Becker said he sees total U.S. exports reaching 800 million to 1 billion gallons this year and profit margins recovering from low levels. That compares with 2014’s three-year high of 826 million gallons.
“When you look out on the curve beyond some of the nearby noise around the Brazilian currency and the sugar harvest, we remain competitive,” Becker said.
India scooped up nearly 17 million gallons of fuel-grade ethanol in the first two months of the year, according to U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) data, leaving the country poised to outpace last year’s 41 million gallons.
Exporters have gone “whole hog” on sales to India, a U.S. trader said. The business is highly competitive and sellers need to offer considerably long financing deals, exporters said.
Green Plains executives on Wednesday affirmed that demand was out there in the not-to-distant future, noting “interest” from new countries.
The company on Tuesday reported a loss in the first quarter of 2015 due to weak margins and high stocks. (Reporting by Chris Prentice in New York; Editing by W Simon, J Benkoe and C Reese)