Grains' cheapness, at least compared with their summer price highs, is
beginning to get noticed.
Corn futures, having slowed their decline to a crawl over
the last couple of weeks, managed healthy gains as the dearth of producer selling
cracked the resolve of buyers holding out for further declines.
"Merchandisers continue to indicate that cash movement is
slow," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.
Indeed, "corn continues to provide the strong arm in the
grain complex", he said, highlighting the growing premium of the March contract
to the May lot, a so-called bull spread, and often seen as a sign of the market
attempting to entice growers to sell rather than hoard, by providing a
'Very strong cash
Chicago's March corn contract in fact closed up 1.7% at $7.05 a
bushel, its best finish for two weeks, with the better-traded May lot adding a
more modest 1.3% to $6.94 ¾ a bushel.
"This inversion is a representation of the very strong cash
values that are in the country," Mr Holaday said.
Benson Quinn Commodities said: "The front-end corn market is
firmer on record high cash basis values and tight old crop stocks."
Such considerations overcame some of the negatives still
underlying the market, including the so-called "sequester" automatic cuts to
government spending - worth an estimated $85bn over the rest of the 2012-13
financial year, to September - that stand to kick in on Friday.
"Grains, soybean and livestock markets could be impacted if the
US Department of Agriculture has to furlough meat and grain inspections,"
halting government inspection of shipments, Benson Quinn cautioned.
'Dry area shrinks'
With its fellow grain recovering, wheat was handed a boost too – especially given that corn's rise
gave it, at some points in the day, an atypical premium over wheat.
Wheat had regained its edge by the close – but not by much,
in finishing at $7.05 ¾ a bushel for March delivery a gain of 0.9% on the day.
The May lot added 0.8% to $7.11 a bushel.
OK, data overnight showed the condition of US winter wheat crops rebounding, a little, from historically low levels, as the impact of
rains and snows in refreshing drought-affected crops feeds through.
"The second storm in five days is hitting the dry areas of
the central and southern plains. The six-to-10 day and 11-to-15 day forecast
maps also have added moisture," US Commodities said.
"The dry area in the US continues to shrink."
However, with the data largely expected, and wheat already
down more than one-quarter from highs in July last year, there was some idea
that a lot of positive supply news is already factored into the market.
"Recent moisture has been built into wheat values," Mr
Furthermore, there were signs of demand emerging at lower
prices, even if Egypt, the top purchaser, appears sidelined by its financial
constraints – claiming too to have built up large wheat stocks.
Japan purchased 50,000 tonnes of US feed wheat, in what was
considered an unusual deal, and spurred by the relative cheapness of American
supplies compared with those from exporters such as Australia.
And Taiwan tendered for 94,000 tonnes of US milling wheat -
and this after Jordan tendered for 100,000 tonnes of milling wheat.
The question was whether soybeans would follow suit, or continue to plough a lone furrow
which has turned into a negative one.
Having outperformed grains handsomely earlier in February,
supported by ideas of strong Chinese demand at a time when Brazil supplies were
constrained by a rain-delayed harvest and port congestion, the South American
country appears to be in a better state to export than had been thought.
"Brazil's soybean harvest is approaching 30%, on a par with
the average, with yields and quality improving as harvest advances," Richard
Feltes at RJ O'Brien said.
US purchases from
OK, "port logistics will get worse before they improve",
with soybean shipments competing for space against corn exports, Mr Feltes said.
But least the threat of port strikes has abated, until March
15 anyway, after the government agreed to meet unions protesting at plans to
And rumours of US purchases of South American soybeans,
viewed as of Brazilian or Paraguayan origin, and a factor that would undermine
American prices, continue to echo around Chicago.
The March contract closed down 0.2% at $14.47 ¾ a bushel,
with the May lot shedding 0.2% to $14.31 ¾ a bushel.
'No shortage of
Among soft commodities, New York raw sugar for March ended lower, down 1.2% at 17.79 cents a pound, the
weakest finish for a spot contract since August 2010, despite some misgivings
that the drop in values may have gone too far here too, besides in grains.
"There is no shortage of bearish news," Commerzbank said,
pointing to last week's International Sugar Organization upgrade to its
forecast for the world sugar production surplus, and estimates from some
analysts, such as Kingsman and Macquarie, of further surpluses in 2013-14 too.
"These estimates are doubtless based on the assumption that
sugar production in Brazil will continue to grow [in 2013-14], after already
achieving a record 40.3m tonnes a year earlier.
"It remains to be seen whether this will actually happen,"
given the increasing financial incentive for mills to turn cane into ethanol
rather than sugar.
"In our opinion, the sugar price shouldn't fall any further,
and is more likely to respond to negative news with price increases," Commerzbank
But New York arabica
coffee did manage to put a little bit of distance between itself and
two-year lows, adding 0.3% to 142.50 cents a pound for May delivery.
The bean was helped by talk by the government in Brazil, the
top arabica producer and exporter, that it will consider offering growers
options, offering a minimum price, in an effort to support the country's coffee