AS CARRIED in yesterday's local papers, Gov. Freddie Marañon was asked about his reaction to the possibility of an increase in domestic retail prices of sugar if the national government does not import sugar very soon.

The governor expressed the view that the country has sufficient sugar stocks. He pointed at hoarding as the most probable cause of any increase in retail prices. Marañon called on the DTI to inspect the warehouses of sugar traders and retailers to ascertain whether they are hoarding sugar stocks.

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Aside from the abnormal spike in world sugar prices that we experienced earlier this year, the main cause of the rise in retail sugar prices is not actual supply shortage but the hoarding of sugar stocks by unscrupulous businessmen and traders to create the impression of a shortage so they can increase prices.

Marañon, a sugar producer himself, fully understands the dynamics of the sugar industry. DTI should heed his call before opportunists and profiteers inflict further harm to the long suffering consumers.

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Cane Points got hold of the highlights of sugar production as of June 27, thanks to the National Federation of Sugarcane Planters. We also secured a copy of SRA's report on raw sugar production, withdrawals and stock balances for the Visayas as of July 4.

Most industry stakeholders will be interested more on figures for withdrawals and stock balances but it will be better if we can also review the production figures.

At only 19.2 million mt, there is a 10.44 percent decrease in gross tons cane milled this crop year compared to 21.5 million mt of cane during the previous crop year.

Fortunately, this crop year's yield increased by 5 percent, from 1.95 LKg/TC last crop year to 2.05 LKg/TC this crop year. This increase in yield somehow cushioned the expected drop in production.

Raw sugar production is pegged at 1.97 million mt, down 5.66 percent from last crop year's 2.09 million production. Raw sugar withdrawals increased by 12 percent, from 1.6 million mt last crop year to 1.8 million as of June 27.

Raw sugar stock balance plunged more than 61%, from 563,233 mt last crop year to only 218,191 mt as of June 27. Expect the stock balance to decrease further by the end of this month.

White or refined sugar production increased 6.19%, from 906,075 mt last crop year to 962,196 mt this crop year. Interestingly, withdrawals of refined sugar as of June 27 increased only by 0.84 percent at 887,141 mt. Last crop year's refined sugar withdrawals amounted to 879,724 mt.

Refined sugar stock balance as of June 27 also dropped more than 21% at 254,251 mt, compared to the stock balance during the previous crop year of 322,291 mt.

As of June 27, raw and refined sugar stock balance in the country is only roughly 472,000 mt. As of today, the combined sugar stock balance might be in the range of 300,000 mt.

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In the Visayas, raw sugar production as of July 4 is slightly more than 1.31 million mt, based on SRA's Raw Sugar Production, Withdrawals and Stock Balances Report. Withdrawals reached roughly 1.15 million, leaving a stock balance of 166,500 mt of raw sugar.

In Negros, total sugar stocks as of July 4 is about 105,000 mt, almost one-third of which is with Biscom. The sugar mill in southern Negros has more than 33,000 mt of raw sugar. It has been stocking up on its sugar stocks in preparation for the opening of its refinery, reportedly at the beginning of the next milling season.

Lopez is also well-prepared with its raw sugar stocks for the coming 2010-2011 campaign. It has more than 21,000 mt in its warehouses, according to the SRA report.

Hawaiian has 11,346 mt of sugar stocks while the mill at Bais has 11,738 mt.

Vicmico has only 5,719 mt in its warehouses. It has to start milling early to beef up its raw sugar stocks so that it can operate its refinery.

Except for Sagay with its slightly more than 3,000 mt of sugar, the rest of the other mills in Negros have sugar stocks of less than 2,000 mt.

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There is still more than 100,000 mt of sugar in the warehouses of Negros mills as of July 4. Thus, there should be enough sugar supply for the Negrenses. The nagging question now is: "Who owns and controls those sugars?"

Whoever owns and controls those sugar stocks can dictate when and how much sugar to make available to the domestic market. Surely, the owners of those sugars also have other stocks in their own warehouses. This will make them more potent in manipulating domestic sugar supply and, consequently domestic retail prices of sugar.

DTI should take heed of Governor Marañon's call now. It should not wait for the damage to be inflicted before it takes any action.

(For reactions and suggestions, email bbacaoco@yahoo,com.)