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Evening markets: SA weather worries revive soybean futures

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Many risk assets found the going a little easier on Thursday, what, with firm US data to help them.

US jobless claims fell to a three-year low, while the New York manufacturing index showed a surprise revival too.

That was enough to help


, which closed 0.6% higher in London and up 1.0% in Frankfurt, were 0.6% higher on Wall Street in late deals.

The safe haven of the


fell back too from 11-month highs, standing 0.4% lower, improving the competitiveness of dollar-denominated assets on export markets.

'Noticeably not bouncing'

Still, commodities were slow to take the bait, with Brent


among the best performers with a 0.2% gain. The average raw material, as measured by the CRB index, shed 0.3%.

Was it down to Credit Agricole scaling back positions, after announcing on Wednesday the closure of commodities activities?

Thomas Kujawa at Sucden Financial noted the talk of the French bank "scaling back in commodity finance," adding "it all seems all manna from heaven for the bears".

And certainly in his fiefdom,


, New York's benchmark March lot closed down 0.2% at a six-month low of 22.75 cents a pound (although later contracts did manage small gains).

"We are noticeably not bouncing," he said.

"The sugar headlines seem to be laden with stories of Indian exports and from Unica that there will be roughly 5% more [Brazilian Centre South] cane planted, and an optimistic outlook for next year."

'Improving prospects'

In Chicago,


had the headwind of continued optimism over rain for drought-tested winter grain seedlings on the US southern Plains.

"Heavy rainfall in hard red winter wheat is improving prospects," Gail Martell, at Martell Crop Projections, said.

"Rainfall the past two weeks was particularly heavy in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, the top bread wheat states, and two-to-four times the normal amount," with the "forecast turning wet again".

This countered a boost from a marginally-better-than hoped US export sales figure, of 427,000 tonnes, and continued joy at US wheat at least getting back on the radar at the latest tender from Egypt, the top importer.

"US wheat is now competitive with Black Sea wheat, but is still too high versus Argentina and Australia," Iowa-based broker US Commodities said.

Chicago wheat for March closed down 0.3% at $5.79 ¼ a bushel, hitting a contract low of $5.77 ¼ a bushel earlier on.

'Chinese blathering'

Nor could Chicago


do any better, ending down 0.3% at $5.79 a bushel for March, the lowest for a spot contract in a year.

The prospects for Chinese buying are causing some concern among bulls.

"There is still plenty of talk circulating about China holding any new purchases until 2012 and could be as long as the second half of 2012," Paul Georgy at Allendale said.

That said, China did turn up as a buyer in the weekly export sales report, emerging as a buyer of 123.7m tonnes previously booked to unknown.

"The Chinese interest is counter to all their blathering that they have plenty of corn in stocks and a record harvest. This is one of the major scenarios to watch come 2012," GrainAnalyst trader Matthew Pierce said.

Still, US Commodities noted that "world corn values remain too high. Wheat is extremely cheap versus corn across the world", with increasing reports of its substitution by other grains too in livestock rations.

'The bull story'

It was


which returned to the head of the Chicago pack, taking more bullish sentiment than corn from the continued worries about South American weather.

"Soybean prices have demonstrated some strength because of the continued moisture deficit that has developed in Brazil," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said, adding that weather models "indicate very little near term relief".

US Commodities said: "South America weather remains threatening. This is the bull story."

Minneapolis-based Benson Quinn Commodities added that "srying conditions are seen spreading across southern and western regions of Brazil from Parana west to Mato Grosso while Rio Grande do Sul receives periodic rains showers.

"This is an emerging situation that will warrant close attention if forecast is still dry when market returns from Christmas holiday."

January soybeans bounced from the last session's 14-month closing low to end up 1.1% at $11.11 ¾ a bushel.

'Somewhat more attractive again'

Investors in grains themselves would have been better off across the Atlantic, where wheat received some support from a Strategie Grains downgrade to its forecast for the European Union's 2012 harvest.

Furthermore, analysts are still talking of Egypt's purchase on Tuesday of French wheat for the first time in 2011-12

"EU wheat has become somewhat more attractive again, not least on the back of a weaker euro," Commerzbank said.

Not that weekly EU wheat export data were huge, at 252,000 tonnes, but better than last week's 142,000 tonnes.

Paris wheat for March closed up 0.3% at E177.25 a tonne, while London wheat for May, the best-traded lot, gained 0.6% to £143.70 a tonne.

Chinese plantings

And among soft commodities,


did better to latch onto the broader market tailwinds, as well it might as a non-food farm commodity, with its prices more related to the macroeconomic picture than many other crops.

A cut by Beijing Cotlook to its forecast for Chinese cotton sowings next year helped too, even though the reduction was adjusted to one of 9%, from one of 10.5%.

New York cotton for March closed up 1.4% at 86.29 cents a pound.


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