* Profits on beef exports rose 18 pct in quarter
* Sales to Hong Kong set record in Q1
By Fabiola Gomes
SAO PAULO, April 5 (Reuters) - Brazil’s beef exports jumped 25 percent in the first quarter of 2013 compared with the same period a year earlier, thanks to a more favorable exchange rate and increased demand abroad, the head of the country’s main beef industry group said on Friday.
Brazil, the world’s top beef exporter, shipped 324,500 tonnes abroad in the first three months of 2013. Profits from those exports rose 18 percent to $1.44 billion.
Profits increased even though the average price per tonne of beef fell 5.5 percent to $4.62 in March compared with $4.88 from the same month a year earlier.
Brazil’s currency, the real, bid 1.99 to the dollar on Friday, 1 percent stronger from the previous day but 8.6 percent weaker from a year earlier.
“The exchange rate is helping, the average price fell and this increased the volume exported, we were more competitive,” Fernando Sampaio, the Executive Director of Abiec, told Reuters.
Sales to Russia, the top buyer of Brazilian beef, as well as Hong Kong, Venezuela, Chile, Egypt and Europe accounted for 60 percent of exports in the period.
“Sales went well in all these markets, but we beat a record in exports to Hong Kong, reflecting strong consumption in China and Southeast Asia,” Sampaio said.
Exports grew even though a few small buyers have banned imports of Brazilian beef since the World Animal Health Organization said late last year that a cow that died in 2010 had atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), the prion that causes mad disease, though it did not actually develop the dreaded illness.
Though Brazil is the world’s top meat exporter, it actually consumes 80 percent of the beef it produces domestically.
Meatpacker Marfrig and JBS, the world’s top beef producer, have said they expect an increase in the number of cattle available for slaughter in the second quarter of 2013, as the traditional rainy season ends in Brazil.
Renato Costa, chief executive of JBS, said at an event on Thursday he expected the number of cattle moved off of pastures and onto feed lots in Brazil to grow by 10 percent this year, driven by lower feed costs.
Brazil, which is famed for its grass-fed beef, is confining more animals to feed lots and converting degraded pastures into soybean fields.
The country is expected to harvest record soy and corn crops this season, lowering global and domestic prices of those commodities, which are used to make animal feed. (Writing by Caroline Stauffer; editing by Andrew Hay)