PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 10:13 GMT, Friday, 8th Sept 2017, by Mike Verdin
AM markets: grain futures dance to tune of currency plays

The dollar keeps on falling.

The dollar index, a measure of the greenback against a basket of other currencies, fell a further 0.6% in early deals on Friday to 91.011, its weakest level since January 2015.

Besides market unease over the performance of the administration of US President Donald Trump, the latest dollar dip reflects the increased appeal of the euro, after the European Central Bank said on Thursday it will reveal plans on winding down its quantitative easing economic support programme.

Such an event would be of huge significance, in marking something of an end (in the eurozone at least) to the hangover from the world economic crisis.

Whatever, the euro dug in above the psychologically important mark of E1.20 to $1 secured in the last session, standing at E1.2046 in early deals, a gain of 0.2% on the day.

EU exports

The currency moves are hardly going unnoticed on agricultural commodity markets, where eurozone traders are bemoaning the resultant lack of competitiveness of eurozone exports, including those of grains.

Data on Thursday underlined this dynamic, in showing EU soft wheat exports so far in 2017-18 (beginning in July) down 48% at 5.25m tonnes, and barley shipments down 54% at 543,000 tonnes.

That said, there appears to be more than currency involved in the wheat decline, with the disappointing harvest in Germany, typically a key producer of higher protein wheat, a factor too.

Indeed, Agritel said that "France seems to have exported greatly," although especially to other European countries rather than outside the EU, "benefiting from a poor harvest and bad quality in Germany".

Russian rail subsidy?

If it is any consolation to eurozone merchants, at least the euro, up 2.5% against the dollar over the past month, has been appreciating more slowly against the dollar that the rouble, up nearly 5% against the greenback.

The rouble - which is being helped by firmness in oil markets, with Brent crude at its highest levels since April - is being closely watched in grain markets thanks to Russia's huge grain harvest, much of which is expected to make it on to export markets.

While Russian infrastructure problems are an issue, Benson Quinn Commodities flagged a meeting of the Russian Grain Union industry group which "should shed some light on an apparent plan to subsidise rail transport at 100%.

"If it turns out the subsidy is wheat specific, wheat export capacity will expand at the expense of corn and barley.

Furthermore, the Canadian dollar - a key currency for trade in spring wheat, of which the country is a major grower - has been appreciating strongly too, fuelled by an unexpected interest rate rise earlier this week.

That is not the only reason, but it is a key one, behind a recovery in spring wheat prices, which added 0.1% in Minneapolis to $6.50 ½ a bushel as of 10:00 UK time (04:00 Chicago time), retaking the psychologically-important $6.50-a-bushel mark, and taking three-day gains to 3.4%.

 Data later

All this has put increased focus on how US exports respond to the weaker dollar, which should be a boost, making dollar-denominated assets that much more affordable.

The subject will be a key focus on Friday with the release of weekly US export sales data for last week, expected for all wheat to come in at 350,000-550,000 tonnes.

For corn, sales are expected at 650,000-950,000 tonnes (plus up to 250,000 tonnes for 2016-17, which ended last week).

And for soybeans, export sales for the new season are seen coming in at 700,000-1.0m tonnes, plkus up to 100,000 tonnes for 2016-17.

Wheat prices gain

Chicago winter wheat for December stood up 0.4% at $4.39 a bushel in early deals, shying away from a return back to the contract low of $4.22 ½ a bushel reached last week.

"Prices remain somewhat above season lows," said Tobin Gorey at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

"We think the dollar's continued weakness will help them stay there.

"Nonetheless, the US's competitiveness needs to translate into more exports for prices to remain here."

In Australia itself, a strong week for east coast wheat futures ended on a soft note, with the January contract easing by 0.6% to Aus$266.00 a tonne, but still up 6.2% this week.

While weather forecasters "are not expecting any significant rainfall in eastern crop regions for another week or so… worrisome cold snaps are forecast to stop by early next week," Mr Gorey said.

Wasde looms

For corn and soybean markets, there are more complex dynamics in play, through the factor that US crops are still in the field, and yield estimates very much in play, a factor which will come to a head with the release of the US Department of Agriculture's monthly Wasde crop report.

Reuters poll data overnight show that analysts expect some cut in the Wasde to US yield forecasts, but not big ones, with the corn figure seen coming in at 168.2 bushels per acre.

That compares with a current figure of 169.5 bushels per acre.

For soybeans, the Wasde is seen reducing the yield forecast to 48.8 bushels per acre, from 79.4 bushels per acre.

Weather worries

And there remain worries, thanks to Midwest dryness, with Benson Quinn Commodities noting that "dry conditions are expected to continue through the Corn Belt for the next couple of weeks".

At futures International, Terry Reilly said that "for the US corn production areas, 10% of the crop is within an area experiencing drought, unchanged from the previous week and down from 15% a month ago, but well up from 3% at this time last year".

Meanwhile, in China, cool temperatures are growing as a worry, although Dalian corn futures for January, having gained for five successive session, gave back most of those gains on Friday in dropping 1.2% to $1,699 a tonne.

In Chicago, corn futures for December added 0.4% to $3.56 ½ a bushel, although still remain a little down for the week.

Rapeseed tariffs

Soybeans for November gained 0.3% to $9.72 a bushel in Chicago, with actually focus in the oilseeds complex more on the canola-rapeseed side, after the European Union decision to slash import duties on imports of Argentina biodiesel from September 28.

With biodiesel made from vegetable oils, the move is seen as meaning a dent to EU demand for rapeseed, and indeed imports of the oilseed.

In the last session, "the reaction on the rapeseed futures market was immediate with a registered downturn of E5 a tonne on Euronext yesterday", Agritel said.

Winnipeg canola futures for November stood a 0.2% lower at Can$490.90 a tonne in early deals, taking the two-session decline to 1.3%, with the stronger Canadian dollar hardly helping either.

Palm oil, meanwhile, added all of 0.1% to 2,785 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

While the EU has also slapped large tariffs on import of Indonesian biodiesel, over the antidumping claims it applied to Argentina, only Argentina has had the levies condemned by the WTO.

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