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Evening markets: bumper exports lift corn price - eventually

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What does it take to please agricultural commodity investors these days?

The US unveiled its best weekly


exports in 21 years on Thursday, of 1.33m tonnes of 2011 crop and 2.14m tonnes for shipment in 2012-13.

Sure, the bumper figure reflected huge exports to China and "unknown", presumed China, unveiled through daily alerts last week, but was still above most market estimates.

Yet still, the grain struggled to end higher, only managing in the last hour really to clearly take a stand in positive territory (for old crop anyway), and end 1.2% higher at $6.50 ¾ a bushel for May delivery, and 0.5% up at $6.14 ½ a bushel for the better-traded July lot.

'Could cause liquidation'

The trouble was in part the general mood of liquidation which has only been encouraged by moves to prevent members of the Chicago grains exchange from next week from using their membership value as margin – is making them put up the same security against positions as other non-commercial investors.

"This just makes sense," broker US Commodities said.

"This argument has merit," Benson Quinn Commodities said.

But it "could cause liquidation as member traders will have to adjust positions or meet the increases in margin ahead of the deadline", Paul Georgy at Chicago-based Allendale said.

'Weather psychology'

Then there is the continuing idea of a strong harvest, thanks to strong plantings boosted by drier weather early on, which has been followed by wetter conditions which, while easing back the pace, have boosted hopes for seedlings.

"The US weather psychology has pounded the corn and


markets and built in a lot of negative production news," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

Benson Quinn said: "Favourable weather is providing resistance as many areas that have seen good planting progress are expected to receive moisture over the course of the next week.

While the pace of planting "will likely slow", given that more than 50% of the corn crop is already in the ground "at this point this is not a supportive factor".

More strong exports

Still, where liquidation did help corn was where it happened elsewhere – that is, in the unwinding of short corn-long



And the idea of getting shot of soybeans, which looked to have germinated in earnest in the last session, took another leap forward.

Sure, there was enough bullish fundamental news on soybeans around.

Weekly US export sales were 1.73m tonnes, old and new crop combined, compared with expectations of 1.0-1.5m tonnes.

On top of that, the US Department of Agriculture unveiled exports of 232,000 tonnes of new crop soybeans to China.

And as an extra point for bulls, the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange cut its forecast for the Argentine soybean crop by 2m tonnes to 41m tonnes, albeit remaining above some other forecasts, eg Informa's 40m-tonne number.

'Significant sign'

But given the record net long positions that funds and speculators have, for which read huge unfulfilled selling pressure, what really matters is getting out before this liquidation hits.

And there were technical reasons for speculators to ignore fundamental demand for US soybeans and play safe.

"Technically old crop soybeans had a key reversal yesterday," US Commodities noted, referring to chart pattern.

"This is a significant sign - 86% of the time this signals the top or a major intermediate top in the market."

'Liquidation of spreads'

Many investors did not take changes – funds sold 9,000 contracts, taking the total in two sessions to 17,000 – and leaving the July lot down 0.8% at $14.73 a bushel.

The sell-off in this contract, and so-called bull spreads with later lots, helped limit the decline in November soybeans to a modest 0.5 cents, leaving it at $13.67 ¾ a bushel.

"Much of the activity today has been liquidation of spreads that changed direction yesterday," Mr Holaday said, flagging "liquidating soybean bull spreads".

'Likely see short covering'

The spreading was a help to wheat too, given that this grain has been a particular butt of short grain-long soybean bets.

Exports sales provided support too, reaching 711,000 tonnes, a little ahead of estimates of 500,000-700,000 tonnes.

But traders also wondered whether they had got ahead of themselves in selling down the grain, despite ideas of the best harvest in nine years in Kansas, the top US wheat-growing state.

"As we head into next week's USDA numbers on Thursday," when the department unveils its monthly Wasde crop report, "we will likely see some short covering [in grains] on ideas that world numbers may not be bearish", Mr Hoalday said.

In fact, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization slashed 15m tonnes from its forecast for 2012-13 wheat production, and forecast overall cereals supplies tightening a touch.

Wheat for July added 0.2% to $6.15 ½ a bushel in Chicago, and 0.4% to $6.33 a bushel in Kansas.

In Paris, wheat for May edged 0.1% lower to E217.50 a tonne, although the new crop November lot dropped 1.5% to E198.75 a tonne, playing catch up with US losses late on Wednesday.

Discount to cash closes

Some recent subjects of selling got support in other markets too, including the Chicago livestock market, where

live cattle

for June added the maximum 3.0 cents to 115.875 cents a pound.

Feeder cattle

for August rose limit-up 3.0 cents, to 157.225 cents a pound, too.

The rises followed observations of the strong cash markets which highlighted earlier in the week.

"A few hundred head" of fed, ie live, cattle "did trade in Kansas at $120 a hundredweight (120 cents a pound) on Wednesday," Allendale's Paul Georgy said.

Weak start

And is the voodoo of the 20.40 cents a pound in raw


working its magic?

Last year, the sweetener bounced off that level. And it seems reluctant to go below it this time too, after Unica, the Brazil cane industry association, revealed a slow start to the crushing season in the key Centre South region.

Crushing reached 4.7m tonnes as of April 15, behind figure of 7.0m tonnes a year before, with sugar output falling from 214,000 tonnes to 152,000 tonnes, Unica said.

New York's July raw sugar contract gained 0.5% to 20.65 cents a pound.

'Ample arabica supply'

But arabica


remained out of favour in New York, tumbling 3.8% for July delivery to 175.90 cents a pound for July delivery.

"There is still suggestion of ample arabica supply in the upcoming harvests," Sucden Financial said, noting that talk of potential frost in Brazil, the top arabica producing country, "were swiftly put to one side".

Technically, the picture is hardly helpful either.

"Having failed to make higher highs and lower lows as yet, we are forming a short-term pattern that doesn't rule out a break to the downside in the coming sessions", the broker said.


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