PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 09:52 GMT, Monday, 15th May 2017, by Mike Verdin
Cotton futures 'on fire', hitting fresh high. But wheat dips

Will cotton become elastic?

That is, did the 7.4% surge in July cotton futures in the last two sessions set the market up for a mighty reversal?

And it could be mighty indeed, given that the fibre's limit-up close to the last session has led to an expansion of limits for this one, to 5 cents a pound.

Louis Rose at Rose Commodity Group noted that "on occasions when the market moves southward" the session after a limit-up close, "moves have often tended to be brisk and severe".

'Market is on fire'

Still, such retreats do represent a minority.

In fact, "most often, since 2002, there has been an upward bias to positive daily settlement changes for days following a limit up settlement," Mr Rose said.

"The statistical analysis suggests a higher settlement for the July contract on Monday."

And the contract certainly started with that intent, standing 4.2% higher at 85.65 cents a pound as of 09:45 UK time (03:45 Chicago time).

Earlier, the lot touched 85.74 cents a pound, up 12.1% in three sessions, and the highest price for a spot contract since June 2014.

"The cotton market is on fire," said Joe Lardy at broker CHS Hedging.

'Very tight supply'

As for the rationale behind the surge, fingers are pointing in the main at strong US export data, and what this means to supplies already looking squeezed at least until the next harvest, which is expected to be a big one.

"The US has already exported a lot of cotton," said Tobin Gorey at Commonwealth Bank of Australia. 

"Supply consequently will be very tight until new northern hemisphere crops come to market later this year."

'Huge margin calls'

However, technical factors look like playing a part too, with CHS Hedging's Joe Lardy saying that last week, "the 10, 20, and 50 day moving averages converged and the speculative funds went hunting buy stops.

With in the last session "the shorts trapped and unable to trade and now facing some huge margin calls, Monday should be a volatile day as well".

The number of gross shorts in New York cotton futures and options, at 10,550 lots, actually rose 694 lots in the week to last Tuesday, although that data includes too more distant contracts, which have underperformed the spot on ideas of larger supplies ahead.

The December lot was higher in early deals, but by a more modest 0.9% to 74.41 cents  a pound, taking its three-session gains to 2.6%.

Oil spurts

Again, movement in cotton was more than that found in many other ag contracts.

But the idea of broad market calm did take a knock with a joint statement by the energy ministers of Saudi Arabia and Russia, in which they said output cuts by major oil producers should be extended until March 2018.

The impact was to send Brent crude up to $52.13 a barrel at one point, before it eased back to $51.95 a barrel, a gain of 2.2% on the day.

Will this provide support too for ags used in making biofuels?

Ethanol vs sugar

Certainly, the news came at a timely moment for sugar futures, which have faced selling in part on ideas of a drop in Brazilian ethanol prices, which would mean sugar having to compete less hard (in terms of price elevation) to gain its allotment of cane.

"There is some discussion that Petrobras, the Brazilian energy giant, might be able to cut gasoline prices again," CBA's Tobin Gorey said.

"That would pull down ethanol prices further and so the point at which Brazil's mills will produce ethanol instead of sugar."

Raw sugar futures for July traded 0.6% higher at 15.60 cents a pound in New York.

'Showers will slow planting'

However, in Chicago, corn, the grain most associated with ethanol manufacture, eased back 0.2% to $3.70 a bushel for July, after a largely dry weekend in the US Midwest, which likely allowed substantial spring sowings progress.

(More on this will come later, with the US Department of Agriculture's weekly crop progress report.)

That said, losses were limited by the prospect of further Midwest rains ahead, although centring on the north western and central areas which have largely been able to get ahead with seedings.

It is the southern and eastern areas which have proved the biggest worry of late.

This week, "widespread showers in northwest and central area will slow corn/soybean planting", said MDA.

Rival weather service Commodity Weather Group said that eastern Midwest seeding "should advance this week, given a dry window of 7-8 days in much of the area".

'Potential for short covering'

It should be pointed out that if the weather does not oblige, there is the potential for large upward pressure on prices, given the extent of short positions put into corn by hedge funds (positions which would likely be closed to a great degree should corn production prospects suffer).

Hedge funds raised their net short in corn futures and options by 24,000 lots week on week to more than 208,000 contracts, the second biggest on data going back to 2006.

"The potential for short covering does exist with a new bullish market catalyst," said Benson Quinn Commodities.

"It would be rare not to have a weather market at some point during the summer."

'Weaker tone'

By contrast, in Chicago wheat, hedge funds cut their net short by more than had been expected, some 16,000 lots to just under 108,000 contracts.

That was seen as a potential negative for prices, in showing less unfulfilled buying pressure (which is what short bets essentially are) than had been thought.

Benson Quinn Commodities forecast that the data would "offer resistance in the winter wheat markets", likely bringing a "weaker tone" to prices.

And Chicago wheat for July indeed dropped 1.1% to $4.28 a bushel.

'Wetness and disease threats'

Not that all factors in wheat markets were negative for prices, with the US Plains rains seen as raising the threat of wheat damage from disease.

"Showers this week will increase wetness and disease threats," MDA said.

They will also renew setbacks to spring wheat sowings, into Canada, and indeed, Minneapolis spring wheat for July eased a less marked 0.2% to $5.45 a bushel.

But rains in parts of the European Union are viewed as positive for output prospects in the world's top wheat grower, where dryness has been an issue (including in the western UK, where Agrimoney.com is based, but where rains of more than an inch in the past few days are viewed as having bad a big positive impact on crop potential).

In Europe, "rains continue to improve moisture for most wheat/corn areas over the next 10 days," Commodity Weather Group said.

Oilseeds gain

Chicago soybeans, meanwhile, edged 0.2% higher to $9.65 a bushel for July, finding support from firm vegetable oil markets, with soyoil up 0.6% at 33.05 cents a pound for July.

That in turn reflected strength in palm oil futures, which added 0.8% to 2,671 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur, after Intertek said Malaysian exports of the vegetable oil were up 8.9% so far this month.

Rival cargo surveyor SGS put the increase at 7.1%.

"The fasting month of Ramadan, which begins at the end of May this year and sees Muslims break day-long fasts with communal feasting, historically leads to higher usage of palm oil for cooking in regions such as India and the Middle East," Oriental Pacific Futures noted.

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