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UPDATE 1-Brazilian ethanol holds edge against gasoline at pumps, says Unica

(Includes report details, comments from Unica, tables) SAO PAULO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Brazilian cane mills continue to sell historically large volumes of ethanol in the market, despite recent price declines for its competitor gasoline, and the biofuel is expected to remain competitive in the between-harvests period through April. Mills in Brazil's main center-south growing region sold 866 million liters of hydrous ethanol - the type that competes directly with gasoline at pumps - in the first two weeks of the year, 32 percent more than seen in the same period a year earlier, according to cane industry group Unica. Brazil's sole refiner Petrobras has been reducing gasoline prices at refineries in recent weeks following lower international oil prices and the strengthening of the Brazilian currency. That movement tends to squeeze profit margins for ethanol. But Unica said mills have been able to continue to sell large volumes. "Ethanol has held a share of around 30 percent of the market for light vehicles' fuel in the last months," Unica's director Antonio de Padua Rodrigues said in a report on Thursday, adding that he sees the biofuel remaining competitive against gasoline during the entire between-harvests period from now to April. Sugar market players are watching the situation in Brazil's fuel market for signs of possible shifts in the production mix in the new center-south crop that starts in April. If ethanol loses its price edge against gasoline, demand will fall and mills might divert more cane to sugar production instead of ethanol in the new crop. Processing has basically ended in the center-south, with only 7 cane mills still operating. Sugar production in the first half of January was only 11,000 tonnes compared to 72,000 in the previous two-week period. Mills crushed 524,000 tonnes of cane in the period versus 2.41 million tonnes in the second half of December, Unica said. See below detailed figures from Unica's crop report for the first half of January (cane and sugar in million tonnes, ethanol in billion liters, total recoverable sugar-TRS in kg per tonne): BRAZIL'S CENTER-SOUTH - 1st HALF OF JAN (ANNUAL COMPARISON) 2017/18 2018/19 PCT CHANGE CANE CRUSH 0.166 0.524 214.58 SUGAR OUTPUT 0.003 0.011 -- ETHANOL OUTPUT 0.042 0.070 66.18 TRS (kg/T) 104.86 103.53 -1.27 CANE TO SUGAR 17.01 pct 21.89 pct BRAZIL'S CENTER-SOUTH CUMULATIVE DATA - 2017/18 VS 2018/19 2017/18 2018/19 PCT CHANGE CANE CRUSH 583.41 562.68 -3.55 SUGAR OUTPUT 35.83 26.35 -26.46 ETHANOL OUTPUT 25.26 30.20 19.54 TRS (kg/T) 137.36 138.61 0.91 CANE TO SUGAR 46.93 pct 35.46 pct Source: Cane Industry Group Unica (Reporting by Marcelo Teixeira)

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