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Longest ag price winning spree on record hits the buffers

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March brought an end to the longest winning streak on record for agricultural commodity values.

 

At least, as measured by the Bcom ag subindex, which fell last month for the first time since May last year.

 

The nine-month winning run it had achieved was the longest since the subindex started 30 years ago, beating the previous record, of seven successive months of price rises, set in 1995.

 

Hog headway

Lean hog futures did their best to keep the winning run going, soaring above 100 cents a pound for the first time since 2014, amid worries that the renewed spread of African swine fever would prevent Chinese pork imports falling back as much as had been expected.

 

Mexico has been a strong buyer of US pork too – at a time when the US herd has shown surprise shrinkage, as official data last week showed, amid ideas that Midwest producers are suffering their own disease worries.

 

Steiner Consulting highlighted that the decline in the pigs-per-litter rate as revealed by the briefing had not occurred in a December-to-February period “since 2014, and may be an indication that disease issues over the winter could have been more severe than anticipated”.

 

In 2014, by the way, the US was suffering an outbreak of porcine epidemic diarrhoea virus, or PEDv, coronavirus particularly serious in young animals.

 

Headwinds

Corn and soybean futures managed last-session rallies too, thanks to lower-than-expected US sowings data, to turn positive for March.

 

And New Zealand whole milk powder prices found support from a wave of purchases by Chinese buyers having difficulty getting hold of the product from other origins, thanks to container shipping disruptions. (And this was before the Ever Given blocked the Suez Canal.)

 

However, the strength of the dollar was one hurdle to ag commodities extending their gains, with the greenback putting in its strongest performance in more than four years to curtail the affordability of dollar-denominated ags, at least.

 

The resurgence in Covid-19 cases in many countries – notably in much of Europe, which is experiencing its third wave of infections - was another.

 

Besides undermining hopes for the recovery in travel, and so needs for biofuels and markets such as sugar related to them, the revived Covid worries hit expectations for demand for the likes of cocoa and coffee too.

 

What lies ahead?

 

The progress of efforts to control Covid may well have a big impact on ag prices this month.

 

But expect weather, via grain markets, to have a big impact as well.

 

Conditions in the US, as farmers ramp up spring sowings, will gain an increasing market focus. But keep an eye out too on Brazil, where renewed dryness is raising concerns over the development of safrinha corn, and on Europe, where a cold snap is forecast for early next week.

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