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Evening markets: ags soar as investors rush to close shorts

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Friday's US crop reports had been billed as market-movers. And did they sure lived up to expectations.

The bearish throng who sold grains down hard in the run up to the US Department of Agriculture's annual crop plantings survey and quarterly crop inventories briefings were wrong-footed big time by the results.

But there may be toasts in Beijing to the Chinese buyers who purchased

corn

and

soybeans

this week on the break, at prices which don't look like returning any time soon.

Especially not in old crop corn which, for May delivery, closed up Chicago's daily limit of $0.40 a bushel for the first time since October.

"The corn and wheat markets have been under pressure going into the report so a hint of bullishness should have prompted buying, and it has," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

'Unsustainable pace'

OK, the headline number - of US farmers intending to sow their biggest corn acreage since 1937, of 95.9m acres –had the capability of mauling new crop corn contracts.

But that was to reckon without the support from other data.

Soybeans,

wheat

and, in particular, corn stocks were lower as of the start of March than the market had expected.

Corn's inventory figure of 6.01bn bushels, a 16-year low, signalled that "corn use in the first half of the 2011-12 marketing year has accelerated at an unsustainable pace, and must be reduced through high prices in the second half", Rabobank said.

Sudakshina Unnikrishnan at Barclays Capital said the figure reflected "continued tightness in old crop corn supplies, which should support old crop prices".

Chicago's May lot finish up the maximum $0.40, or 6.6%, at $6.44 a bushel.

'Sniff of short covering'

And the corollary of huge corn sowings intentions was that area was grabbed from other crops, notably corn and soybeans, boosting their performance too.

New crop soybeans for November closed up 4.1% at $13.58 a bushel, helping the old crop May lot finish 3.5% higher at $14.03 a bushel, a six-month closing high for a spot contract.

Chicago wheat had the extra supercharger of a huge level of speculative net shorts, which were closed en masse prompting a 7.9% gain to $6.60 ¾ a bushel in the May contract.

"Definitely a sniff of short covering in wheat, and soybeans, today," Scott Briggs at Australia & New Zealand Bank said.

In fact, the lot well outperformed Minneapolis spring wheat, which had fundamentals behind it. The disappointing USDA wheat sowings figure was down, in the main, to farmers dismissing spring wheat in favour of corn.

The Minneapolis May contract closed up 6.2% at $8.37 ½ a bushel.

And against this background, even new crop December corn was dragged higher, to close up 3.1% at $5.40 ¼ a bushel.

'Hard to fathom'

Not that this will be the end of the sowings saga. Friday's data represent intentions, with time still for growers to change their minds – especially if futures markets provide an incentive.

Rabobank said that the improved ratio of new crop soybeans, now above 2.5, will be a "key catalyst for switching of corn acreage to soybeans" by the time of the next plantings highlight, a June USDA report.

And some expect a swing to spring wheat too.

"The biggest surprise for us in the report is the USDA spring wheat planted acreage intentions," Mr Holaday said.

"It is really hard to fathom that planted acreage in those areas would be lower than the planted acreage number of a year ago," when wet conditions hampered sowings.

'Imports will increase significantly'

The USDA reports overshadowed some, generally favourable, crop news from elsewhere,

Hopes for Chinese soybean imports boosted by a forecast from the China National Grain and Oil Information Centre crop bureau of buy-ins hitting 57m tonnes in 2011-12, an 8.9% rise and above the 55m tonnes the USDA is factoring in.

"China's imports in the coming months will increase significantly," the centre said, forecasting that crushers would boost purchases for delivery in the July-October period, for which they have so far only filled 20-30% of needs.

The USDA also unveiled the export sale of 120,000 tonnes of soybeans through its daily trade reporting system.

Lower wheat guess

Meanwhile, Coceral, the industry group, questioned assumptions of a rise in the European Union wheat harvest this year, pegging it at 126.8m tonnes, below forecasts from the likes of the European Commission and Strategie Grains.

Furthermore, there was a generally helpful macro-economic backdrop, with the safe haven of the

dollar

falling 0.3%, making dollar-denominated assets more competitive as exports, and risk assets on the rise.

Wall Street

shares

were 0.5% higher in late deals.

The average commodity, as measured by the CRB index, gained 0.8%

That helped many soft commodities make headway too, with New York arabica

coffee

getting an extra lift from a decision by Brazil to increased credit to farmers, to encourage them hold stocks and stop the panic selling which sent the bean down nearly 20% this quarter.

This factors in a 3.4% rise to 182.45 cents a pound in New York's May contract on Friday.

'Get out of jail card'

New York raw

sugar

gained too, up 0.5% at 24.71 cents a pound for May, which some said reflected continued fears for the Brazilian Centre South cane harvest, although on which others took a different tack.

"It's month and quarter end which means us brokers have a 'get out of jail card' for anything unforeseen today as the funds face reporting pressures," Thomas Kujawa at Sucden Financial said.

And new crop December

cotton

eventually managed a positive end too, adding 0.3% to 91.00 cents a pound despite the USDA sowings reporting turning up a modestly bearish number for the fibre, of 13.16m acres, above expectations of a 12.9m-acre figure.

Cotton vs soybeans

Michael Haigh at Societe Generale questioned whether this much cotton will actually get planted, given that it is a rival in the US South to soaring soybeans.

"The price relationship between soybeans and cotton has moved in favour of soybeans, the reverse of what was seen this time last year.

"With an expected 11% reduction in cotton plantings, we would expect to see soybeans to continue gaining in that area."

By Agrimoney.com

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