PRICES caught up to, and in most cases bounded ahead of, eastern wool markets at the Western Wool Centre (WWC) last week, following a week without local sales.
With no live auctions at the WWC again this week and only next week's final sales series before the financial year end, woolgrowers looking to sell part of their clip to fund bulk purchases of cropping chemicals, fertiliser or diesel fuel before the fuel excise discount ends, were happy to take what they could get last week.
If their wool was of a good style, relatively clean - high yielding and low in vegetable matter (VM) - then it was in demand and what they could get was a share of the best prices since the 2019-2020 season for 19-21 micron fleece.
If their fleece was finer - 18 or 18.5 micron - then the best prices since the record-breaking 2018-2019 season were attainable, according to Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX) figures.
On the first sale day last week, when the WWC market was strongest, wool buyers were prepared to pay premiums of 80-100 cents over the odds on high yielding, low VM Merino fleece, pieces and oddments, particularly at the broader end of the micron spectrum - 19.5 micron and above.
If woolgrowers' lots were also declared non-mulesed or, better still, registered as RWS (Responsible Wool Standard), then the premiums buyers were prepared to pay were much greater again.
Westcoast Wool and Livestock auctioneer Danny Burkett described them as "red hot" after the opening session on the first selling day last week.
"Coming out of the (sale) room today was one of the biggest disparities I've seen in the market based on yield," Mr Burkett said.
"Seventy per cent yield, low VM (wools) are attracting competition from across the board.
"As soon as those yields get below 60-59pc, there's still good competition, but they are sitting a long way behind (in price) from those higher yielding wools.
"It would be my suggestion that the Chinese (processors via local buyers) are heavily active on those better yielding wools.
"There was good competition and I did notice those non-mulesed lots did attract some extra competition on top.
"So if they also had the good yields behind them today, the only way to quote those was red hot."
AWN broker and auctioneer Stephen 'Squizzy' Squire, who achieved some of the best prices of the first day for his clients in the final fleece selling session, agreed.
"There was an 80c to $1 premium for the coarser, low VM-high yield wools and it was better again for RWS," Mr Squire said.
He pointed to prices achieved for comparable lots he sold under the Brookvale stencil for the Anderson family at Kojonup.
"They have been non-mulesed for about three years now, but there are still some older ewes in their flock that were mulesed, so at this stage, not all of the Brookvale clip qualifies as RWS," Mr Squire said.
He said one lot of Brookvale 19.1 micron RWS wool sold for the equivalent of 1969c per kilogram clean, while a similar lot of 19 micron Brookvale wool that was not RWS registered sold for 1810c/kg.
"There were a lot of phone calls before the sale because we knew pretty much what was going to happen," Mr Squire said.
"The Eastern States (prices) had got ahead of us when there were no sales here and buyers were looking to cover the recesses coming up (no WWC live auctions this week, no live wool auctions nationally for the annual three-week sales recess from mid-July until the second week of August and then another week without WWC sales towards the end of August).
"As well, in the middle of all the financial stuff that's going on, the Australian dollar has come back a couple of cents (compared to the international trade benchmark US currency) which is good for Australian export commodities like wool."
AWEX noted premiums of up to 250c/kg paid for "specialty non-mulesed types" in its national weekly wool market report.
Because buyers last week were buying wool that will likely not reach clients in China until late August or into September - and much later in the year for clients in India and Europe due to ongoing shipping problems - they have had to carefully factor scheduled Australian Wool Selling Program sales recesses into their buying regime to ensure clients will have enough wool stockpiled to keep mills operating.
But there are reports out of China that processor stockpiles of greasy wool remain very low for various commercial reasons, mostly related to COVID-19 and the potential for sudden lockdowns or movement restrictions to deprive them of a workforce - as happened when COVID initially hit in 2020 during the Chinese new year holiday, preventing many workers who had travelled into the country to visit family, from returning to work in the cities - and cashflow.
The WWC passed-in rate for fleece lots last week was just 6.8pc, among its lowest for the current selling season.
Only 2.1pc of the fleece lots initially listed, were withdrawn ahead of the sales, leaving a relatively large 8844-bale WWC offering, of which 7978 changed owners.
In the fortnight leading up to the one-week recess before last week's sales, the passed-in rate had bounced between 15pc and 19pc and the weekly offering had shrunk from 7792 bales to 6360.
The Western Market Indicator (WMI) finished last week at 1563c/kg greasy, its highest point in at least two seasons.
It added 73c for the week, compared to the benchmark Eastern Market Indicator which added 29c to finish at 1467c/kg.
Last season the WMI had topped out at 1477c/kg.
Fleece at the broader end of the micron spectrum gained most in last week's firming markets, with rises of 125c (to 1554c/kg greasy) for the 20 micron indicator and 113c (to 1470c/kg) for the 21 micron indicator.
The mid-micron 19.5 fleece indicator was next best, adding 91c to 1672c/kg, while the 18 and 19 micron indicators both added 75c (to 2246c/kg and 1827c/kg respectively) and the 18.5 micron indicator added 70c to 2058c/kg.
Merino cardings went against the trend, losing 36c to 918c/kg.
The Merino cardings indicator had hit its highpoint for the season so far of 1008c/kg at the end of last month.
Local trader PJ Morris Wools and national trader Techwool Trading topped the WWC buyers' list both trading days last week, with Endeavour Wool Exports third ahead of Chinese specialty buyer Meliwa and Chinese indent buyer Tianyu Wool on the first day and Meliwa third and Tianyu fourth on the second day.
TURNOVER from national live wool auctions so far this season passed $2.5 billion last week, according to AWEX.
With one week of live wool auctions still to go at the Western Wool Centre (WWC) and two weeks to go at the Melbourne and Sydney selling centres this season, the $55.59 million generated by wool auctions last week took the national turnover tally to $2.51b.
Last season total gross turnover from wool auctions was $2.24b in a rare selling season with an extra week of trading.
For the previous season, where auction prices and demand for wool in the last quarter was severely affected by the global pandemic, total auctions turnover was $1.97b.
Last week's WWC sales were also notable for a relatively rare occurrence on Thursday, the second trading day.
Gross turnover of $7.42m at the WWC exceeded $6.59m generated at the Sydney selling centre, according to AWEX.
On the previous day the positions were reversed - the usual order - with the WWC's $7.34m trailing Sydney's $9.85m.
Selling Victorian, South Australian and Tasmanian wool, the Melbourne centre is the main national wool trading centre.
Its turnover last week was $13.32m on the first day and $11.51m on the second.
So far this season 37.8 million kilograms of wool has been offered for auction at the WWC, an increase of 2.5mkg or 7pc on the amount offered by the end of corresponding week 50 sales last season, according to AWEX.
Nationally, the offering increase this season is 17.4mkg or 9.3pc, taking the offering so far to 204.1mkg.
As at the end of the third quarter this season, China continued as Australia's main wool customer, taking 79pc of total wool exports, which is down slightly on the proportion it took last season and compares to 5pc each for Italy and India and 4pc for the Czech Republic.
With only Melbourne and Sydney centres selling this week, the national auctions offering has fallen to 30,810 bales.
Early AWEX indications are that it will only climb back to 36,186 bales for the final sale of the season with all three centres operating.
But brokers have indicated the first two sales of the new season - ahead of the annual sales recess in weeks three, four and five - could see big offerings at the WWC.
According to brokers, because of exceptional cropping yields and high grain prices earlier this season, many farmers will be looking to hold off selling their wool until into the new financial year.
They do not want likely better wool incomes adding to already significantly improved cropping income in the same financial year.
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