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Evening markets: China stockpiling talk helps underpin crops

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Weather concerns could save some markets from losses, but by nowhere near all.

The "risk-on" feel evident across financial markets in the last session faded as those eurozone debt fears made themselves felt in earnest in a new year, with data from European Central Bank highlighting clearing banks' reluctance to lend to eachother.

Unicredit, the Italian bank, further spooked investors by unveiling its E7.5bn rights issue at a massive discount.

Shares fell in Frankfurt, London and Paris, while the safe haven of the dollar rose 0.6% against a basket of currencies, putting dollar-denominated assets, such as many commodities, on the back foot by making them more expensive.

'Beneficial moisture'

Indeed, many raw materials took fright, with

copper

tumbling more than 3%.

That made

cocoa

look bright in falling 1.9% to $2,075 a tonne in New York, for March delivery, continuing to feel the pressure from ample West African supplies of the bean.

And cocoa in turn fared worse than

wheat

, which dropped 1.1% to $6.50 a bushel in Chicago, for March delivery, after official data overnight showed America's drought-plagued hard red winter wheat crop improving.

In Kansas, the top wheat-producing state, "above average temperatures and beneficial moisture in most areas helped to see the winter wheat through December", the US Department of Agriculture said.

The Kansas hard red winter wheat crop was rated 53% in good or excellent condition, hardly a strong figure but better than the 47% in late November.

The grain fell in Europe too, closing down 1.9% at E195.50 a tonne in Paris, for March delivery, and in London by 1.8%, at £152.70 a tonne, for the best-traded May contract.

Argentine rain

But then wheat lacks a, direct, impact from the South American weather which remained the talk of the markets.

Some extra rain in the near-term outlook dampened bullish spirits somewhat, sending corn and soybeans into negative territory earlier on.

"There has been some moisture added to the South American forecast for early next week. This has caused some selling," Darrell Holaday at broker Country Futures said.

"But it is not seen as a major rain event at this time," he added.

US Commodities said: "The rains do not appear to be a change in the weather pattern. It is more of a front moving through during a dry period."

Chinese buying ahead?

Furthermore, China came back into the news, with talk that it is to boost imports of corn, soybeans, vegetable oils and

cotton

this year to boost state reserves.

"News out of China that they would like to build reserves of grains and oil has been supportive. Of course we don't know when they will begin that process," Mr Holaday said.

Indeed, they already appear to be well along the way in cotton, for which some 1m tonnes imports are expected in 2011-12, along with 2m tonnes of domestic purchases, according to an International Cotton Advisory Committee report out overnight.

Still, cotton recovered early losses to close up 0.1% at 95.92 cents a pound in New York, for March delivery.

In Chicago, corn for March ended unchanged at $6.58 ½ a bushel, if enough to rebuild a premium over wheat.

Soybeans for March closed up 0.2% at $12.30 a bushel.

Rangebound?

Back among soft commodities,

sugar

gave back some of the gains of the last session, as the idea of buying by commodity index funds in their rebalancing process - when they buy laggards to bring weightings back to mandated levels – petered out, for now anyway.

"It would require a change of perception on the fundamentals or a further dramatic weakening of the dollar to gather momentum on the upside for the sugar markets," Nick Penney at Sucden Financial said.

"We suspect a rough range of 23-25 cents a pound will be established for the beginning of 2012."

New York raw sugar closed down 0.4% at

Freeze and juice

New York

orange juice

did better, adding 2.9% to 178.05 cents for March delivery, boosted by a weather scare, with fears of frost in Florida, America's top citrus state.

The spot, but little-traded, January lot soared 6.5% to 184.75 cents a pound.

By Agrimoney.com

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