Cocoa surged to near its highest price in 30 years as U.S. trader Cargill complied with demands for an export ban from top producer Ivory Coast by Alassane Ouattara, who aims to stop cash reaching his presidential rival.
In a signal the market was taking Ouattara's call seriously, agribusiness giant Cargill, which typically buys about 15 percent of Ivory Coast's cocoa crop, has told its unit there to suspend purchases, a senior company official in Abidjan said on Monday. .
Dealers said the international market was confused over the potential impact of Sunday's call by Ouattara -- internationally recognised as the victor of a November 28 election -- given that incumbent Laurent Gbagbo controls the supply routes to ports.
Ouattara, who is in a hotel guarded by U.N. troops, said anyone contravening the ban would be subject to sanctions.
But his power to enforce them was in question as Gbagbo, who has appointed an administration and rejected pressure to step down, was likely to do everything possible to facilitate exports to generate cash to pay the military and state workers.
Buyers swooped on the commodity as a precaution.
The larger players are taking measures to secure themselves. People have bought cocoa and cocoa products to mitigate their risks, a big European cocoa trader said.
Everybody is in the dark, the trader added.
ICE May cocoa jumped 3.1 percent or $97 to $3,270 per tonne by 1340 GMT, having earlier touched a one-year peak of $3,340 per tonne.
ICE second-month cocoa was within sight of its December 16, 2009, peak of $3,514, the highest level in more than 30 years.
Liffe May cocoa was up 41 pounds or 1.9 percent to 2,155 pounds per tonne, having earlier touched a six-month high of 2,269 pounds per tonne.
A European Union embargo on Ivory Coast cocoa trade is unlikely for now because of the potential cost to the country's population, a spokeswoman for the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Monday.
A trade embargo is an option, but unlikely because of the potential impact. It's not an immediate option, Maja Kocijancic told a regular news briefing.
DISRUPTION WOULD BE HUGE
Dealers said that if exporters respect Ouattara's call for an export ban, there will be less availability of cocoa on the international market, which could send cocoa prices rocketing.
If it's enforced prices of cocoa will go through the roof, Gary Mead, analyst with the VM Group in London, said of Ouattara's call. If he's serious, if they can enforce such a trade embargo, the disruption would be huge.
A European commodity hedge fund manager argued that cocoa was so crucial to victory in the struggle over the presidency that stopping the exports would be a priority.
...the struggle will be resolved not by fighting but by cutting the other side's funding and that means stopping the flow of cocoa, the hedge fund manager said.
Cocoa arrivals at ports in Ivory Coast reached around 843,000 tonnes by January 23, exporters estimated on Monday, compared with 759,408 tonnes in the same period of the previous season.