Thai govt faces big losses in rice tender if it wants to ease stockpiles
* Exporters say bids likely to range from $390-$468 per T
* Well below the $700 grain is thought to have cost govt
* Govt needs funds to continue intervention scheme
* Also wants to clear space in stockpiles ahead of next harvest
BANGKOK, July 26 (Reuters) - Bids in Thailand's first tender to sell rice from national stocks in nearly 10 months could be well below the amount it paid for the grain under a controversial intervention scheme, forcing the government to take big losses if it decides to sell.
The government is looking to keep funding the costly price intervention programme that helped sweep it to power when it won the votes of millions of farmers in 2011, and wants to clear space for the next main crop in its stockpiles, currently at a record 17-18 million tonnes.
"I will bid at slightly lower than (domestic) market prices as I have logistics costs and packaging costs to be added in," said an official at an exporter, who declined to be named.
Exporters said bids at the 350,000-tonne tender would range from around $390 per tonne to just below current local Thai prices of $468 per tonne. That is a long way shy of the around $700 the government is thought to have paid for the grain when milling and storage costs are factored in.
World prices have fallen due to expected bumper crops and high stockpiles, with Thai sales piling even more pressure on the market.
Traders also warned that interest in the first tender after a considerable hiatus would likely be limited, with some firms waiting to see how transparent the sale would be and what prices the government would accept.
"The accepted prices would be an indicative prices for buyers to bid in the next tenders," said Sompong Kitireanglarp, president of Thai exporter Ponglarp Co Ltd.
It was unclear how big a loss the government would be willing to take, with results expected around the middle of next week after the sale kicked off on Friday.
Commerce Minister Niwatthamrong Bunsongphaisan, who was appointed after his predecessor lost his job over losses that had piled up over the intervention scheme, announced the tender earlier this month.
The government has spent up to 600 billion baht ($19.3 billion) in buying rice since the intervention programme started in October 2011, and it failed to release stocks when global demand was thin.
On Thursday, Thailand signed a contract to sell 250,000 tonnes of rice from its stocks to Iran in a government-to-government deal and said it aimed to sell more to Asian governments.
($1 = 31.1050 Thai baht)
(Editing by Joseph Radford)