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Evening markets: ag commodities defy stronger dollar again

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Agricultural commodities managed another show of, relative, strength on Tuesday, backed by factors from Iranian military exercises to South American weather.

Negative closes looked the default position given a mixed day for other risk assets, such as


, and another rise in the


, which soared a further 0.9% to its highest against a basket of currencies since January, so eroding the competitiveness of dollar-denominated exports.

Eurozone jitters, evident in a decline in the euro to its lowest since January and a rise in rates for European banks to borrow in dollars, were again blamed for diverting investors to a greenback deemed a safe haven.

However, agricultural commodities supported ideas that price lows has been passed for now.

'Secretive market'


extended its sharp rebound, closing up 2.8% at $2,243 a tonne in New York, for March delivery. Anyone lucky enough to have bought at Monday's three-year low would be sitting on gains of 13%.

The revival has been attributed to a rash of short-covering among investors who had built up short positions, still theoretically in profit for anyone who put them on between March and the start of this month.

But they were not looking so clever after Singapore-based Olam International on Monday countered ideas of bumper world cocoa supplies, saying strong deliveries to ports in Ivory Coast, the top producer, were of last year's beans, hoarded during the civil war.

"As one of the world's four biggest traders of cocoa, Olam has a nearly unrivalled view of the opaque and secretive market for cocoa, which is the year's second-worst-performing commodity after fears of a lengthy civil war in top producer Ivory Coast yielded to a surplus of supply," Lynette Tan at Singapore-based Phillip Futures said.

London cocoa for March jumped 3.7% to close at £1,473 a tonne, up 14% from its intraday low on Monday.

'Pressed cotton'

And this time cocoa's strength was reflected in other soft commodities too, even


, which rebounded from a 14-month low, spurred by US Department of Agriculture estimates on Friday of richer supplies, to close up 0.2% at 87.31 cents a pound for March.

Not that this means the war is over for the fibre's futures, with Sudakshina Unnikrishnan, who forecast the fibre's rise, putting the case for continued price concern.

"We have been expecting cotton prices to ease through the second half of this year on cues from the supply side with global production rebounding on robust production from key producers like China, India and Pakistan," she said.

"Meanwhile, the current environment of macroeconomic uncertainty is pressuring prices with cotton demand closely linked to the economic cycle."

Meanwhile, Australian crop bureau Abares forecast that the Cotlook A physical price indicator would "decline further over the remainder of 2011–12 in response to record world cotton production".

On Tuesday, the Cotlook fell 3.3 cents to 93.40 cents a pound.

Firm softs

New York raw


edged higher by 0.6% to 23.44 cents a pound for March, as Unica, the Brazilian cane industry group, estimated output of the sweetener from the country's key Centre South region at 30.99m tonnes from the beginning of the season to December 1, down 6.2% year on year.

While hardly unexpected, it was a reminder of the production gap ahead of the buoyant European and Russian beet harvests.

And New York


added 0.9% to 222.95 cents a pound for March delivery, as the International Coffee Organization forecast firm prices ahead, despite a small lift to its world production output estimate.

'Dry conditions raising concerns'

That was just about enough to match the average gain for commodities on Tuesday, as measured by the CRB index, with oil a particularly strong performer, adding some 2% to top $109 a barrel, for Brent


after Iran conducted military training exercises in the sensitive zone of the strait of Hormuz, which has Oman and then the United Arab Emirates at the other side.

The strong oil price "has underpinned




today", Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

As did growing fears for South American weather, with talk of undue dryness spreading from Argentina to parts of Brazil.

"South American weather outlook is main talking point with forecasts turning drier in the end of the 10-day outlook from prior forecasts yesterday," Benson Quinn Commodities said.

"This shift in pattern to warm and dry conditions is raising concerns as crops move into key pollination phase later in the month."

'Crop downgrades'

At Allendale, Paul Georgy said that "dryness in Argentina and Brazil is getting attention. In recent days there have been a few ag groups from Brazil who reduced the size of crop due to dryness".

Mr Holaday said: The absence of rain in the South American forecast has prompted some additional buying of soybeans."

And so it went on, although it was enough to lift Chicago corn for March by only 0.1% to $5.94 ½ a bushel, with soybeans for January doing better, closing up 0.6% to $11.29 a bushel.

While there are continued concerns around Chinese soybean crushing margins, and hence the country's demand for the oilseed, profitability may be improving, and prospects for imports of the oilseed with them.

"Import demand is firming on more positive margins and on seasonal factors," Ms Unnikrishnan said.

Egypt order


did better, closing up 1.1% at $6.00 ½ a bushel in Chicago for March delivery, as speculators continued to cover their large short in the grain, encouraged by the grain's greater show of resilience in the last couple of sessions.

Indeed, physical prices, as measured by prices paid by Egypt in grain tenders, have risen in the last week, by $10 a tonne to $236.83 a tonne excluding freight, and by a little under $2 a tonne including freight.

The improvement reflects signs that Russian supplies, who have held sway on Egyptian orders, are losing their ability to keep cutting prices, leaving them undercut by French wheat, and of course Argentine grain too.

Egypt's award of 60,000 tonnes of its latest 180,000-tonne order to French wheat, the first purchase of 2011-12, helped Paris wheat end 1.0% higher at E177.00 a tonne, with the weaker euro a support too.

London wheat edged 0.1% higher to £143.10 a tonne for May delivery.

Sure, UK wheat export data, for October, were firm, helped by orders from Continental feed groups denied their usual supply lines by the disruption caused by low water levels to river barge traffic.

But, with Rhine water levels raised, at least, that demand may, as it were, dry back up.


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