PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 20:41 GMT, Friday, 21st Feb 2014, by
Evening markets: profit taking saps grains. But sugar soars

The last trading day of the week often provokes a bit of profit-taking, as investors bank gains ahead of the weekend.

There seemed to be a bit of that around on Friday.

Arabica coffee futures for May ended up 0.05 cents at 169.50 cents a pound in New York, but that was 5 cents below the intraday high.

'Notable dryness will persist'

Still, why not take a few gains on a 19% jump this week alone even if the Brazilian dryness at the heart of the rally is showing no signs of ending soon.

While largely row crop-growing states such as Goias, Parana and Mato Grosso do Sul will receive rains next week, "notable dryness will persist in eastern Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Bahia", weather service MDA said.

Sao Paulo is the top sugar cane growing state, and Minas Gerais the most important coffee producing state.

'Shorts still to be covered'

Raw sugar actually did gain from the weather, managing a higher close, up 2.4% at 16.72 cent a pound for March delivery, and 2.3% higher at 17.07 cents a pound for May, both two-month closing highs.

But then fund gains, and the profit-taking it might bring, are not such as issue with raw sugar, in which speculators had a hefty net short position as of Tuesday last week.

Many of these positions are expected to have been closed since, but "we still believe there are shorts still to be covered", Nick Penney at Sucden Financial said.

Technically, the best-traded May contract gained an extra fillip too by touching, and closing over, its 100-day moving average for the first time since November.

This after retaking its 50-day and 75-day moving averages during the week, which it has finished up 6.7%.

Still, the International Sugar Organization and Rabobank followed Macquarie in flagging caution over expectations of long-term price gains.

Wheat retreat

But in Chicago, grains proved less able to hang on to gains, with wheat closing down 1.1% at $6.09 a bushel for March delivery, and by 1.3% to $6.05 a bushel for May.

The May lot is still up 8.5% for February so far.

Weekly US export sales for the grain were better than many traders expected, at 424,500 tonnes old crop, if, as the US Department of Agriculture said, "down 29% from the previous week and from the prior four-week average".

'Snow cover should build'

However, some of the concerns over next week's forecast cold snap are easing, allowing the removal of a bit of risk premium.

While this week's warmer temperatures have melted snow on the central Plains and into the Midwest, "snow cover should build across the north central Plains and north central Midwest again through early next week, as colder temperatures return", MDA said.

Although snow cover will "remain limited" in some central areas, "winterkill threats on wheat in exposed areas will remain low".

Paris wheat for May eased 0.3% to E195.75 a tonne, dragged lower by its Chicago peer, despite a small deterioration in the condition of French wheat as of Monday, by one point to still promising 74% rated "good" or "excellent".

'Relief to short traders'

Corn outperformed wheat a little, closing down 0.6% at $4.53 a bushel for March delivery, and by 0.7% to $4.59 a bushel for May.

Weekly US corn export sales data were disappointing, at 691,400 tonnes old crop, "down 46% from the previous week and 50% from the prior four-week average", the USDA said.

And signs of Ukraine political accord undermined price support from ideas of buyers turning to the US for corn, rather than to the troubled former Soviet Union state.

CHS Hedging said: "The latest peace agreement in Ukraine has loosened concerns, giving relief to short traders."

Data doubts

Still, the grain received a bit of a fillip from the first formal USDA estimates for US corn production, use and stocks in 2014-15, which pencilled in carryout inventories, at 2.11bn bushels, not as big as figures some brokers have forecast.

But is the USDA using an unrealistically low estimate for corn plantings?

Many brokers believe so, with Darrell Holaday at Country Futures among them, saying that "in my mind the acreage numbers are friendly, but I don't believe they are reality".

There are questions as to why the USDA believes combined sowings of corn, soybean and wheat will be lower than last year, when 2013 had such a poor planting season, meaning stacks of land was abandoned.

Dog doesn't bark again

The doubts are even stronger over soybeans, for which the USDA's estimate for plantings of 79.5m acres is 3m acres below some trade estimates.

However, the oilseed received support from US export sales data.

Not that the figure of 86,300 tonnes of cold crop was great in itself. In fact it was a 2013-14 low.

But the key factor was that it did not show large cancellations by China of orders of US soybeans, in favour of lower-priced Brazilian supplies now that a bumper harvest there looks in the bag.

'Crush margins have fallen apart'

"Soybean sales for old crop were a marketing year low but still positive," Benson Quinn Commodities said.

Positive is enough given that the US has, less than half way through 2013-14, already shipped or sold more soybeans than the USDA has predicted for the whole season.

Mr Holaday said: "The US soybean market does not need any more sales in the current crop year."

He added that appeared that Chinese buyers were, instead of cancelling orders from the US, "generally trying to defer contracts for spring shipment out of Brazil to late summer and early fall".

Chinese soybean processors' "crush margins have fallen apart in the last 45 days as their market is overwhelmed with imported soybeans".

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