PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 20:25 GMT, Monday, 11th Sept 2017, by Mike Verdin
PM markets: cotton futures weaken with Irma. Sugar sweetens

Futures in cotton - which fell limit down at one point - and orange juice found definite direction, but some other markets found aiming more tricky, with the uncertainty posed by important data ahead.

The diminishing stature of Hurricane Irma, now downgraded to a tropical storm, in curtailing damage prospects allowed some risk premium to be removed from prices of, orange juice, of which Florida is the top US producing state, and cotton, of which neighbouring Georgia and Alabama are big growers.

'Weakening faster than anticipated'

"Overall, it seems the storm is weakening faster than first anticipated," said broker CHS Hedging.

Orange juice for November closed down 1.7% at 151.45 cents a pound in New York, where cotton for December shed 3.3% to 72.11 cents a pound, ending below its 10-day moving average for the first time in three weeks.

As Commerzbank noted, "a good US cotton crop is still expected overall.

"It also looks as if production in India could rise more sharply than expected to a good 30m bales, which would be 3m bales more than last year."

The large recovery in funds' long positions in the fibre also gave them plenty of scope for taking profits on the price rises of the past couple of weeks.

Rain delays

However, New York raw sugar futures fared better, adding 1.4% to 14.29 cents a pound for October, amid ideas of a slowdown in Brazil's strong pace of production of the sweetener.

In part, this is down to rain delays to cane harvesting, with imminent data from industry group Unica expected to show a 7% pullback to 41.95m tonnes in Centre South crush volumes in the second half of last month, compared with the first, according to a market survey by S&P Global Platts.

"After a long dry weather spell - the longest in four years - analysts estimate an average of 2.3 days of stoppage recorded due to rains and maintenance in the second half of August," S&P Global Platts said.

Sugar vs ethanol

Furthermore, the improvement in the Brazilian price of ethanol compared with sugar, helped by tax rises and the knock-on effects of higher Petrobras gasoline prices, are expected to have fed through into more cane being used to produce biofuel, rather than sweetener.

"Ethanol has paid better than sugar for about a month and generally big mills only change their mix after a longer period of constant profitability of one commodity or the other," said Claudiu Covrig senior sugar analyst at S&P Global Platts' Kingsman division.

"This time we think the sugar mix has finally dropped below 49% [of cane volumes processed] and expect it to come in at 48.9%."

The extent of the net short position held by funds in raw sugar, which hit a record last month, has also been a focus for investors, signalling the potential for a sharp rise in prices, if funds are tempted into closing such bets.

Too close to parity?

Still, there may be more to the closure at 14.29 cents a pound than meets the eye.

Sucden Financial said: "Chatting around this morning it seems everyone is looking at Brazil's ethanol parity seemingly around the 14.30 cents-a-pound area," ethanol parity being the point at which mills earn equal margin from turning cane into ethanol or sugar.

With worries over the shift back to a world sugar production surplus in 2017-18 still remaining, this calculation suggests that "any attempts at a rally above this will find the going quite hard.

"Consensus is well aware that sugar/ethanol economics in Brazil puts a hand brake on an attempted material short-covering rally."

Floating oils

In Chicago, however, soybeans in particular found it hard to stick to a course, trading in both positive and negative territory before closing down just 0.1% at $9.60 a bushel for November delivery.

Forecasts for US 2017-18 soy data in Wasde and (existing figure)

Harvested area: 88.6752m acres, (88.731m acres)

Range of estimates: 88.2m-89.483m acres

Yield: 48.8 bushels per acre, (49.4 bpa)

Range of estimates: 47.1-49.8 bpa

Production: 4.328bn bushels, (4.381bn bushels)

Range of estimates: 4.179bn-4.417bn bushels

Year-end stocks: 442m bushels, (475m bushels)

Range of estimates: 375m-524m bushels

Year-end stocks, 2016-17: 370m bushels, (370m bushels)

Range of estimates: 331m-477m bushels

Sources: USDA, Reuters

Signally, though, that left the contract above its 100-day moving average.

There was, in fact, cause for bulls to take the lead, with the US Department of Agriculture unveiling the export sale of 352,000 tonnes of US soybeans to an "unknown" buyer, the latest in a stream of such orders, improving on a slow pace of early forward orders for 2017-18.

Australia downgraded its harvest of rival oilseed canola.

Furthermore, soyoil got a boost from rival palm oil, which in turn benefited from lower-than-expected Malaysian palm oil stocks data revealed in monthly Malaysian Palm Oil Board data.

Chicago soyoil futures for December added 0.6% to 35.15 cents a pound,

Wasde ahead

But on the negative side for prices, Richard Feltes at Chicago broker RJ O'Brien noted that "weather leans negative" for prices with "no sign of frost" in the Midwest for the next two weeks, which might bring soybean crop development to a premature end, and indeed "a warming temperature outlook for western Midwest".

And then, of course, there was the prospect of the USDA's monthly flagship Wasde crop report on Tuesday, besides data from Brazil's Conab too, and the uncertainty that this data slew brings.

US yield estimates will be under the microscope, but other data too.

"Yes there will be a lot of attention on the yield numbers tomorrow, but there will also be a lot of attention to US export numbers for old and new crop corn and soybeans," said Darrell Holaday at Country Futures.

"Old crop because they performed better than USDA expected, and the new crop is well below the pace of a year ago."

Yield talk

Corn futures fared a little better, in adding 0.4% to $3.57 a bushel for December although this continued a somewhat directionless trading that means that the contract has moved precisely 0.25 cents (higher) over the past six sessions.

Forecasts for US 2017-18 corn data in Wasde and (existing figure)

Harvested area: 83.428m acres, (83.496m acres)

Range of estimates: 83.1m-83.5m acres

Yield: 168.2 bushels per acre, (169.5 bpa)

Range of estimates: 166.7-170.9 bpa

Production: 14.035bn bushels, (14.153bn bushels)

Range of estimates: 13.878bn-14.249bn bushels

Year-end stocks: 2.180bn bushels, (2.273bn bushels)

Range of estimates: 1.898bn-2.420bn bushels

Year-end stocks, 2016-17: 2.340bn bushels, (2.370bn bushels)

Range of estimates: 1.964bn-2.380bn bushels

Sources: USDA, Reuters

In the Wasde, "commentators are more confident about the USDA cutting corn yield than soy", said Richard Feltes, while flagging some mixed talk on harvest results.

"Row crop yields are improving in the Delta and Minnesota, while slipping across central and eastern Midwest following a dry finish" to the development period.

"Early Illinois corn yields are 10-15% below year ago," suggest the USDA is currently overstating state production prospects, Mr Feltes added.

CHS Hedging said that "some traders still believe lower [corn] yields could be ahead in the October Wasde report".

'Continually adjusted upward'

Wheat, however, fell by 0.7% to $4.34 a bushel in Chicago for December delivery, also leaving it with a 0.25-cent upward move over six sessions.

There was plenty of talk on Russia's improved harvest prospects, with CHS Hedging saying that "upward revisions to the Russian crop continue to come in while Russian exports have risen by 7% year on year for this season".

Benson Quinn Commodities said that with the "Russian wheat crop continually being adjusted upward, a large world carryout would not surprise" in the Wasde.

'Weather issues'

Still, "limiting a large drop in wheat prices is continued news of weather issues in Australia and Argentina, and continued strong global demand for high quality wheat," CHS Hedging said.

In fact, Australia downgraded its wheat harvest forecast too, although to a level, at 21.6m tonnes, above those many commentators have been talking of for a while.

And Russia had some potentially bullish news for wheat too, in terms of a rising price of domestic export supplies, adding $3.50 a tonne to $183 a tonne last week according to Ikar, and by $2 a tonne to $184 a tonne according to SovEcon.

The rouble rose too, adding 0.4% against the dollar, so undermining the competitiveness of Russian exports a touch further.

Euro factor

In fact, with the dollar up too against a basket of currencies - including the euro against which it battled back below $1.20 to E1 gains in Paris wheat might have looked on the cards.

Forecasts for 2017-18 wheat output in Wasde, (existing figure)

US year-end stocks: 920m bushels, (933m bushels)

Range of estimates: 875m-943m bushels

World year-end stocks: 264.3m tonnes, (264.69m tonnes)

Range of estimates: 258.0m-268.0m tonnes

Sources: USDA, Reuters

Earlier, Agritel flagged how a euro level above $1.20 was "highly penalising" to eurozone wheat exports "in this period of strong business on the international market".

The Paris December contract at least outperformed, in shedding just 0.3% to E159.00 a tonne, with solid news on any export improvement likely to prove necessary to see a better performance.

"French shipments are concentrated on Algeria, with several boats loading in Rouen, and also to European partners," Agritel said.

"Other destinations like Egypt are out of reach at the moment, especially after a French panamax of wheat could be rejected by local sanitary authorities, according to Reuters, due to the presence of poppy seeds."

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