Evening markets: grains pull back as investors play safe

In weather markets, such as witnessed by agricultural commodity investors during 2012's US drought, crop prices often dip ahead of a weekend, as investors take the safe option and bank profits.

The weekend, after all, could bring a more benign weather forecast.

There appeared to be a bit of that thinking in grain and oilseed markets on Friday, as futures defied ideas of putting in a strong end to the week (and a firm start to February, so fulfilling ideas of month beginnings bringing in fresh money).

'All you need to know'

"Do not be surprised to see the grains close out the week on a firm note," Paul Georgy at Allendale said early on.

At RJ O'Brien, Richard Feltes said that the too-dry conditions in Argentina, and excessive moisture in northern Brazil, were "all you need to know".

He added: "Positive chart action and easy money are providing an additional tail wind."

But in the end gains proved a lot more elusive, as investors indeed opted for safety.

'Completely dry'

Not that the weather forecasts look great, from an Argentine farmers' perspective.

Latest weather model runs do "not have any significant rain in the day one to day five time frame over Argentina, Paraguay, Rio Grande do Sul and Sanata Caterina," weather service said.

They do show "significant rains over Parana, Sao Paulo, and southern Goias, and over 60% of Mato Grosso", where precipitation is not so helpful.

"This pattern continues in the six-to-10 day outlook, with all of Argentina completely dry except for the far west central areas by San Luis.

"And again all Paraguay and Rio Grande do Sul is dry. And again to the north there's a tremendous amount of moisture."

'Change in rhetoric'

But having been caught out by surprise rains earlier this week, investors pulled crops well below intraday highs by the close.

Soybeans did manage to end in positive turf, adding 0.4% to $14.74 a bushel for Chicago's March contract.

Ideas on demand were spurred by comments from a Chinese official that the country, the top soybean importer, "won't go back to closing doors" on crop buy-ins.

Benson Quinn Commodities, saying the comments were "supportive" to crop prices, said that they represented "a change in rhetoric from prior governments where self-sufficiency in grain production was the number-one goal".

Brazil delays

Furthermore, demand is coming at a time when the rains in central Brazil are, in threatening harvest delays and logistical hiccups, prompting concerns over the South American country's ability for now to come up with the (non-US) export supplies that importers are desperate for.

The delay in Brazilian soybean exports has, in volume terms, reportedly increased from 1m tonnes on Monday to 4.3m tonnes, "fuelling chatter that some business could be shifted to the US", RJ O'Brien's Richard Feltes said.

And Informa Economics estimate revisions were broadly positive.

While raising its estimate for Brazil's soybean crop by 1m tonnes to 84.0m tonnes, Informa slashed by 3.9m tonnes to 54.5m tonnes its forecast for Argentina's harvest of the oilseed.

'Basis has slipped'

However, Informa's revisions on South American corn crops were less positive for prices.

While the group cut by 2m tonnes, to 25m tonnes, its forecast for Argentina's crop, it hiked its estimate for Brazil's by 4.1m tonnes to 70.3m tonnes.

Furthermore, in the US, there was plenty of talk of growers selling into the latest rally.

"We did hear of some good farmer movement this week. Basis in the interior has slipped a bit," Allendale's Paul Georgy said.

'Wheat and flour prices are record high'

Chicago corn for March closed down 0.6% at $7.36 a bushel, just back under its 100-day moving average.

And that was definitely a poor harbinger for wheat, whose chart signals are far less supportive than those of its fellow grain, one reason it is being preferred for the short end of spreads with corn or soybeans.

In fact, there are fundamental reasons to buy wheat, with Benson Quinn Commodities noting that "US soft red winter wheat is competitive on the global market".

And this at a time when there are growing ideas that China may be ready to rack up more imports of the grain, in the face of high prices, and talk that last year's harvest was not as strong as official data made out.

"China's wheat and flour prices are record high. This change in political tone could signal more regular imports in the coming year to lower consumer prices," Benson Quinn said.

Russian imports?

Country Futures' Darrell Holaday also flagged "talk about possible Chinese wheat imports," if adding than any such purchases would "likely come out Canada".

However, there was some disappointment that Russia, whose wheat supplies have been severely eroded by strong exports, did not on Friday ditch its 5% import duty on the grain to encourage the refilling of silos.

"The talk in the wheat market recently has centred around the possibility of Russia importing wheat as their supplies are very tight after a reduced crop and aggressive exports," Mr Holaday said.

Furthermore, without enough evidence of actual foreign buying of US supplies, with weekly US export sales data on Thursday deemed disappointing, Chicago wheat for March dropped 1.9% to $7.65 a bushel.

Earlier, Paris wheat for March closed up 0.3% at E248.50 a tonne, helping London wheat, for May, close up 1.0% at £216.40 a tonne.

'Strong end to the week'

Soft commodities did a little bit better, with New York cotton, for instance, overcoming disappointing at Thursday's US export sales data to close in positive ground, just, adding 0.03 cents to 82.98 cents a pound for March delivery.

If China keeps its doors open to imports of the fibre, that could mean bumper sales despite the huge stocks the country already has, with foreign prices well below domestic ones.

And both coffee types managed a positive close this time, despite their differing treatment by an index fund rebalancing which is favouring robusta beans, as traded in London, over the arabicas listed in New York.

"There has been a strong end to the week seen in the robusta market, which in truth has been expected as we have now completed the third day of the London/New York rebalancing," Sucden said, as robusta for March delivery closed up 2.2% at $2,055 a tonne.

"Once again the volume has been more impressive on the London market," the broker added, although disease fears did help arabicas for March rise too, by 0.1% to 147.95 cents a pound.

Indian deficit?

Raw sugar was something of a wildcard, pushing back above 19 cents a pound earlier on for New York's March lot, only to fall back to 18.89 cents a day, a gain of 0.6%, on profit-taking.

Commerzbank was optimistic nonetheless, saying that "sugar production in India, the world's second-largest producer, looks set to be much lower than expected in the coming harvest year," noting forecasts from the Indian Sugar Mills Association of cuts in cane sowings.

Furthermore, consultancy Kingsman also sees sugar production as likely to fall in Uttar Pradesh, India's largest cane-growing region.

"It is therefore perfectly possible that the Indian sugar market will show a deficit in the coming harvest year, and that India will have to import sugar again for the first time in four years," Commerzbank said.

Morning markets: ag bulls hold sway ahead of weather updates
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