Banks say corn a buy, even as 'bearish' data loom

Banks queued to caution over a decline corn prices, even as futures fell to their lowest in nearly a month, weakened by expectations that a major report later on Friday will point to supplies being less tight than had been thought.

Corn prices, as measured by Chicago's benchmark March futures contract, have fallen some $0.25 a bushel this week, undermined by forecasts that the US Department of Agriculture will, in its monthly Wasde report, lift its estimates for domestic stocks of the grain at the close of 2012-13.

One broker, McKeany-Flavell, forecasts the Wasde, a closely-watched report, will reveal an upgrade as high as 95m bushels for the corn stocks estimate.

The squeeze on US corn supplies, stemming from a drought-hit harvest last year, is believed by many commentators to have been eased by the impact of high prices in stalling exports, and more recently the use of the grain for making ethanol.

'Bullish thesis'

However, Macquarie, forecasting a "neutral" Wasde for corn, said that futures were approaching a "fundamentally bullish story" which would unfold in the second quarter of the year, as demand from ethanol plants revives.

Forecasts for Wasde corn data, 2012-13m. range of estimates, and (current figure)

US year-end stocks: 618m bushels, 502m-697m bushels, (602m bushels)

Global year-end stocks: 115.49m tonnes, 114m-117m tonnes, (115.99m tonnes)

Argentine crop: 26.26m tonnes, 25.0m-27.8m tonnes, (28.0m tonnes)

Brazilian crop: 71.28m tonnes, 69.75m-75.80m tonnes, (71.0m tonnes)

Sources: USDA, ThomsonReuters

A "flourish" of Brazilian ethanol imports which has underpinned inventories "is now coming to an end, and we would expect ethanol to destock [in the US] through the first quarter of 2013 and into the second quarter", Macquarie analyst Chris Gadd said.

"Once ethanol stocks have become depleted, we would expect it to become the price leader of corn," with a rationing point which currently relates to a futures price of nearly $9.00 a bushel.

In the livestock sector, demand from poultry and hog producers was also "proving resilient", Mr Gadd said, adding that "the strength of US feed demand for corn is one of the rationales of our bullish thesis for the commodity".

'Buying opportunity'

Separately, Rabobank said that the pullback in corn contracts covering the 2012 harvest "offers a buying opportunity", saying that feed demand "appears to be running at a pace well above the level needed to reach the USDA's forecast".

While the beef sector was showing signs of contracting in response to corn prices which remain elevated by historical levels, numbers were expanding at dairy, poultry and pork enterprises, which between them account for 73% of America's so-called animal units.

"Even if margins were to fall, end users may choose to endure losses in the near-term in expectation of lower feed costs once the 2013-14 harvest comes online," the bank said, forecasting a rebound of one-third in US corn production.

"Strong US corn feed demand will result in [December-to-February] demand will above the pace needed to reach the USDA's forecast, and prove bullish to Chicago corn prices."

'Classic correction'

Australia & New Zealand Bank cited technical reasons for a "buy" recommendation on corn, saying that the retreat in Chicago's July contract to some $6.75 a bushel last month had completed a "classic correction" giving back 50% of last year's rally.

Forecasts for Wasde soybean data, 2012-13m. range of estimates, and (current figure)

US year-end stocks: 129m bushels, 103m-140m bushels, (135m bushels)

Global year-end stocks: 59.19m tonnes, 58m-60.3m tonnes, (59.46m tonnes)

Argentine crop: 53.10m tonnes, 51.0m-55.70m tonnes, (54.0m tonnes)

Brazilian crop: 82.65m tonnes, 80.90m-84.00m tonnes, (82.5m tonnes)

Sources: USDA, ThomsonReuters

"Momentum indicators are also supporting," ANZ said, forecasting "soon" a return to $7.25-7.55 a bushel.

The contract stood at $7.01 a bushel on Friday.

"Projections suggest gains through last year's $8.24-a-bushel high to at least $8.58-8.60, if not a full move to $8.70-9.72 a bushel into mid-2013."

'Vulnerable to selling pressure'

The comments contrast with a more gloomy outlook from Chicago broker RJ O'Brien, which cautioned that "while the marked decline in March corn futures this week suggests that a potentially bearish Feb crop report for corn is fully discounted", there were reasons to expect a further decline.

"We would note that charts are turning over, that current prices for December corn futures reflect an unusually low 2013 US corn yield [expectation], and that new corn longs, evidenced by the 100,000-contract gain in open interest since January 1, are vulnerable to further selling pressure."

At Iowa-based US Commodities, Don Roose, the broker's president, said that the influence of this Wasde may be overshadowed by the latest forecasts for weather in South American, where dryness is eroding hopes for Argentine crops.

"This does not look like being a big report, as far as Wasdes go," he told

"We will probably pretty quickly move on to trading the South American weather outlook."

'As bad as the Russians'

At Chicago-based Rice Dairy, feed grains analyst Jerry Gidel cautioned against expecting the Wasde to factor in a reduced estimate for ethanol production, without further evidence of reduced demand.

Forecasts for Wasde wheat data, 2012-13m. range of estimates, and (current figure)

US year-end stocks: 727m bushels, 699m-783m bushels, (716m bushels)

Global year-end stocks: 175.52m tonnes, 166.7m-178.2m tonnes, (176.64m tonnes)

Sources: USDA, ThomsonReuters

Exports, while poor, were only lagging "63m-65m bushels behind the pace" expected for 2012-13, which may also make the USDA reluctant to act for now.

The USDA's biggest quandary may be in soybeans, and how to tackle supply estimates given the unexpectedly strong exports, which have topped 1.0bn bushels nearly 75% of the total expected for the whole of 2012-13 just five months into the marketing year.

"We may not have enough bushels left for ourselves," he told

"We may have got as bad as the Russians, and have to buy some back because we have sold too much."

Brazil overtakes US in corn exports too
US corn crop to set record, but not by mega-margin
Bad weather hits soy crop in Brazil stronghold too
Agricultural Commodities
Agricultural Markets
Agricultural Companies
Agricultural Events