PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 10:00 GMT, Thursday, 10th Jan 2013, by
Morning markets: data spree takes twist, ahead of main event

If the first leg of agricultural commodities' statistics spree was something of a non-event Brazil's Conab raised its domestic corn and soybean harvests forecast, but not by much the second and third were far more noteworthy.

The second, Chinese trade data, were viewed as promising all round as a sign of the health of the world's second-largest economy, showing exports soaring 14.1% year on year in December, the fastest pace of growth in seven months, and imports rising by 6%.

The Chinese trade surplus jumped to $31.6bn for the month, from $19.6bn in November.

And a key agricultural commodity figure soybean imports - was especially strong, coming in at 58.4m tonnes, a rise of 11.2% on the December 2011 number and ahead of market expectations.

 Edible oil imports, mainly palm oil, grew even faster, by 22% to 1.1m tonnes.

Surprise record

The trade report boosted share markets in Asia - where Japan's Nikkei added 0.7%, Hong Kong's Hang Seng 0.6% and Sydney stocks 0.3% - and helped an easing in the save haven of the dollar.

It also ensured a firm start for many commodities, including copper, a major Chinese import, and Brent crude, which added 0.5% to return above $112 a barrel as of 10:00 UK time (04:00 Chicago time).

But the impact on agricultural commodity markets was muted by the third leg of the round of statistics, on Malaysian palm oil, which showed stocks rising to a fresh record high, of 2.63m tonnes, last month rather than easing to 2.50m tonnes as investors had expected.

While exports, unexpectedly, rose month on month, production extended its knack of outperformance, falling only 5.8% during a seasonal downturn, compared with the 10% drop that analysts had forecast.

More data

Crop investors still remain most obsessed with the fifth round of data reports, from the US Department of Agriculture, limiting their appetite for taking heavy positions for now.

The USDA will on Friday release its latest monthly Wasde report on world crop supply and demand, including long-awaited updates on last year's domestic corn and soybean harvests, plus data on US winter wheat sowings and grain stocks.

(The fourth round of the statistics spree comes later on Thursday, when industry group Unica reveals its latest report on the sugar cane crush in Brazil's Centre South, albeit in a quiet part of the season when data are not expected to tip the needle much.)

And that, as in recent sessions, prevented crop prices straying too far - at least ahead of the USDA data, which has a history of moving markets.

Downward trend?

After all, even if Friday's data do turn out positive for the likes of soybeans, "we have difficulty imagining a sustained trend reversal higher, in the absence of South American crop adversity", Richard Feltes at broker RJ O'Brien said.

"It is important to note that current soybean price range is still quite high historically," he said.

"The take home point here is that a bullish soy report on Friday would elicit a much stronger upside response at the $9.00-a-bushel level than at $13.86 a bushel for the March contract - especially against cushion of likely record 2013 soybean crop."

Certainly, while soybean prices rose in China itself, by  0.2% to 4,750 a tonne on the Dalian futures exchange for the May contract, they eased 0.2% to $13.82 a bushel in Chicago, for March delivery.

Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur palm oil for March dropped 0.9% to 2,390 ringgit a tonne, reversing gains made ahead of the inventory data.

Disaster area

Grains did better, especially wheat, which reversed from the worst performer of Chicago's big three crops to the best, helped by both supply and demand factors.

The USDA on Wednesday reminded of the hardship facing US winter wheat seedlings by declaring much of the central and southern US wheat belts as a natural disaster area, because of drought, making farmers in large areas of major growing states such as Colorado and Kansas eligible for emergency loans.

And the outlook for rains is not great. "Moisture is in the forecast for the south east half of hard red winter wheat territory, but totals in most of Kansas," the tyop US wheat-growing state, "aren't anticipated to put a major dent in the drought", Jonathan Watters at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

That said, Phillip Futures analyst Joyce Liu pointed out that "historically, bad weather conditions in winter do not necessarily mean lousy final production figures.

"Final output of wheat can vary significantly with weather conditions through spring."

Egyptian tender

On a more bullish note, Ms Liu said that "moving forward, we may see greater demand for US supplies because prices have fallen significantly from their highs and are bullish short-term for wheat", in making it more competitive on export markets.

A test of that will come later on Thursday when Gasc, the Egyptian grain authority, unveils the results of its latest tender, announced overnight.

(While Gasc said last week that Egypt has enough stocks to last until June, when it can turn to the domestic harvest for replenishing silos, the world's top wheat-importing country is obviously taking no risks.)

"French and American wheat will be in competition, with a slight advantage for American supplies," Agritel, the Paris-based consultancy, said. 

'Size and quality questions'

China is also believed to be in the market for the grain, amid ideas that domestic supplies are not nearly as comfortable as official 2012 harvest data would suggest.

There has been talk that the 2012 crop was badly damaged by disease, while prospects for the 2013 harvest have been dented by severe winter cold.

"While the USDA's idea of the China balance sheet seems to indicate plenty of room, there is disagreement within the trade on the size and quality of last year's crop," Mr Watters said.

Chicago soft red winter wheat for March rebounded 0.6% to $7.50 a bushel, this time underperforming Kansas hard red winter wheat for March, which gained 0.7% to $8.07 a bushel, as US drought conditions and index fund rebalancing suggest should occur.

Corn vs wheat

Wheat's performance was also enough to rebuild some of the premium against corn, which has dropped by roughly two-thirds over the last two months.

March corn, which showed surprising strength in the last session, helped by strong US ethanol production data, added a further 0.3% to $6.96 a bushel this time.

There have been signs of international demand for corn too, at a time when US supplies have improved their competitiveness against Brazilian ones, which suffer the handicap of infrastructure hold-ups.

That said, South Korea's Korea Corn Processing Industry Association on Thursday rejected all offers to a tender and made no purchases.

Sugar rebounds for now

Among soft commodities, New York raw sugar got off to a firm start, adding 0.6% to 18.83 cents a pound for March delivery, helped by a technical factor, after bouncing in the last session off lows last seen in mid-December.

"Given this reversal, and the bullish support provided by Index fund reweighting, we believe the market may look to test the 50-day moving average, at 19.24 cents a pound, in the short term," Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said.

"Nonetheless, this short-term view does not alter our longer-term negative bias toward the complex," he added.

Phillip Futures' Joyce Liu flagged talk of setbacks to China's sugar crop prospects from the coldest winter in 28 years.

"As such, we expect sugar to end positive today, but gains could be limited," she said.


Evening markets: corn gains on wheat, in run-up to US data
Agricultural Commodities
Agricultural Markets
Agricultural Companies
Agricultural Events