For investors in many markets, Thursday brought a bit of a
Should they take a bearish stance, in tune with the reaction
to quarterly results out overnight from Apple which showed revenues growing 18%
to $54.4bn, and iPhone sales up 78% to 47.8m units?
Both figures fell short of forecasts, prompting a fall of
more than 10% in Apple shares in after
Or should investors look on the bright side, after the HSBC
flash purchasing managers' index rose to 51.9 in January, the highest for two
years, and the latest in a series of signs that the world's second-largest
economy is recovering from a nearly two years of slowing progress?
"Despite the still tepid external demand, the
domestic-driven restocking process is likely to add steam to China's ongoing
recovery in the coming months," Qu Hongbin, chief China economist at HSBC,
Sugar's dawn fades
Chinese economic news would often be a trump card in
agricultural commodity markets, given the country's huge appetite for the likes
of cotton, rubber and soybeans.
And share markets, for instance, at least showed a mixed performance, rising in the likes of Sydney and Tokyo, if falling in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Buyt China's own agricultural commodity markets did not see
much of a bounce on Thursday.
Soyoil for May
dropped 1.4% to 8,624 yuan a tonne on the Dalian exchange, while May soymeal tumbled 2.1% to 3,358 yuan a
And that was pretty much the state of play in other markets
too, (with the exception of the Kuala Lumpur palm oil market, which was closed.
That said, if it was open, it faced the extra negative of an
80% hike to $802 a tonne by India, a major buyer, in its base import price of
the vegetable oil, against which duties are calculated, in an effort to protect
instance, of which it is also a major importer, could not hang on to early
gains, easing 0.1% to 18.48 cents a pound for New York's March raw sugar
contract as of 09:25 UK time (04:25 New York time, 03:25 Chicago time).
The sweetener, which on Wednesday rebounded from a two-year
low to record its first gain in seven sessions, is also being supported by a
narrowing discount of Brazilian prices to New York futures, helped by a modest
strengthening in the real against the dollar so far this year.
Furthermore, India's sugar industry came under a cloud with
a report that its mills will lose around US$1.1bn this season, squeezed by
record cane prices and low sugar values.
But such dynamics have a history of prompting a downswing in
Indian sugar production, as mills slow, and hold back payments to cane farmers,
who turn to other crops, although the cycle may be take some time to feed
'Momentum is spent'
And Chicago grains and oilseeds were in no mood to counter
negative sentiment, after a turn downwards in the market which appears to
betray that it has used up all the rocket fuel provided two weeks ago by
smaller-than-expected data on US corn and wheat stocks.
"Trade in all three markets," that is, corn, soybeans and wheat, "confirms that the bullish post-January
crop report momentum is spent," Richard Feltes at RJ O'Brien said.
That leaves "agriculture contracts subject to day-to-day
vagaries of order floor, tweaks in South American weather forecasts and outside
market capital flows".
Brian Henry at Benson Quinn Commodities said that "commodity
bulls are lacking a supportive news cycle, despite tight domestic corn and
soybean supplies and US soft wheat gaining a competitive edge in domestic feed
rations and global food and feed uses".
'Heat has no bearing'
The mood has been little helped by a turn a little wetter in
the weather outlook for Argentina, where dryness has been an issue, as well as
in the drought-hit US Plains, where a lack of moisture bodes ill for winter
That said, World Weather forecast that the US Plains rains "will
be light and not likely to change the bottom line to drought conditions".
Analysts also took issue with cautions over ideas of any
impact, yet, from Australia's heatwave on wheat, given that the crop is not
even in the ground yet.
"Record heat in Australia has no bearing on a wheat crop
that won't begin to be planted until basically May," Benson Quinn's Brian Henry
said, adding that "we'll address it again in three months".
'Summer is supposed
to be hot'
In Australia itself, Commonwealth Bank of Australia ag analyst
Luke Mathews said: "We are not worried.
"It's the middle of summer. Summer is supposed to be hot and
dry throughout the Australian wheat belt, particularly from central New South Wales
to Western Australia.
"Wheat planting won't occur until April and we'll revisit
the situation again in March."
It is a bigger issue for crops in the ground, chiefly cotton (of which the world has plenty
of other supplies) and sorghum, for which
Sydney futures prices have stayed close to five year highs.
Mr Mathews said: "Disappointment at the distribution of last
week's rainfall in New South Wales /Queensland, which proved patchy, supported
the stronger bid in the sorghum market" on Wednesday, when prices for the May
lot leaped Aus$10 to Aus$276 per tonne.
Nor did technical factors offer reassurance, after corn's
and soybeans' stall in the last session below 75-day moving averages, with corn
going on to surrender its 50-day line too.
Chicago soybeans for March dropped 0.8% to $14.25 a bushel,
just above its own 50-day moving average.
March corn dropped 0.6% to $7.16 ¾ a bushel, giving back its
10-day moving average, at a little over $7.21 a bushel, too.
Wheat vs row crop
And with these crops, for which fundamentals are tighter,
falling what hope was there for wheat?
Especially when it may be being used as the butt of hedging
"I am not convinced that the bullish speculator in corn and
soybeans isn't buying the row crops, while establishing a short leg in Chicago
wheat," Benson Quinn's Brian Henry said.
In fact, wheat for March, as in the last session, proved the
least weak of the big three crops, easing 0.2% to $7.73 ½ a bushel.