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Evening markets: bumper wheat stocks weigh on grain prices

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Many investors had suggested that "buy the rumour, sell the fact" would be a bit of a theme for Thursday, when the US Department of Agriculture released the latest version of its much-watched Wasde report.

And so it turned out. The USDA cut its forecasts for South American

corn

and

soybean

crops, pretty much as expected.

That fed through into downgrades to estimates for domestic and world corn stocks, and global soybean inventories, which was initially well received by investors.

"The grains rallied sharply after the opening, with fund buying obviously grabbing the lower values," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

Solid exports

But the crops could not hold the high ground – especially in the face of an uber-bearish for

wheat

headline of record world inventories, which dragged on the complex.

Chicago corn for March ended 0.9% lower at $6.37 a bushel, $0.15 below its intraday high.

Soybeans for March closed down 0.3% at $12.27 ½ a bushel for March, $0.20 adrift of where they had been.

And this despite some solid US export data on top, with soybeans seeing export sales near-double to 658,000 tonnes, old crop and new, in the latest week.

Buying spree

Wheat's were even better, hit a 2011-12 year high of nearly 708,000 tonnes. The highest figure for very nearly a year, in fact.

And wheat buyers keep on coming.

The list on Thursday included Algeria, which purchased 700,000 tonnes, likely largely from France, after its recent flirtation with South American supplies is rumoured to have ended with some disappointing-quality shipments.

South Korea bought 220,000 tonnes of feed wheat, from unspecified origin, while Japan bought 76,000 tonnes through regular.

Iran is believed to have purchases 400,000 tonnes of Brazilian and German wheat, and seeking more from India, while Iraq purchased 100,000 tonnes from Australia.

And this, totalling 800,000 tonnes, before getting to tenders, which included one from Syria for 100,000 tonnes and a smaller Bangladesh request.

'Outlook has dimmed'

Still, as Rabobank noted, "cold temperatures and a lack of snow cover in Europe and the Black Sea region have increased the risk of winterkill, adding to 2012-13 production concerns", adding that conditions in much of the US wheat area were "less than ideal" too.

Such observations might be leaving importers sitting less comfortably.

"The wheat outlook has dimmed quite a bit in just a few weeks - not to anywhere near panic levels but to a point that might persuade buyers to put in more supply cover," a UK grain trader told Agrimoney.com.

'Back to following'

But all this was overshadowed by the record year-end inventories of 213.1m tonnes which the USDA identified, adding 3m tonnes to its previous forecast.

Thursday's closing wheat prices

Kansas: $6.92 a bushel, -2.5%

Chicago: $6.46 a bushel, -2.2%

Paris: E213.00 a tonne, -1.4%

Minneapolis: $8.31 ¾ a bushel, -1.2%

London: £167.45 a tonne, -0.7%

Prices for March contracts except in London, where price is for May contract

This "may result in the wheat market shifting back to being a follower of the other markets", said rival broker Benson Quinn Commodities.

In fact, it was a leader on the day, downwards, closing 2.2% lower in Chicago at $6.46 a bushel, and 2.5% down in Kansas at $6.92 a bushel.

Paris wheat for March ended down 1.4% at E213.00 a tonne, getting some support from that Algeria deal talk, with London wheat for May closing 0.7% lower at £167.45 a tonne.

Softer cotton

Still, even wheat did better than

cotton

, which dropped 3.5% to 90.38 cents a pound in New York as the USDA continued a theme in Wasde's of loosening supply prospects.

Factoring in increased production estimates and a higher estimate for carry-in stocks, the estimate for world inventories at the close of 2011-12 was upgraded by 2.4m bales to 60.8m bales.

"The stocks-to-consumption ratio of just over 55% is sharply higher than the past two seasons," the USDA said and, with the metric a key (inverse) indication of pricing power, gave bears the upper hand.

Weekly export sales of a little under 50,000 running bales were improved, but hardly inspiring.

Sugar tightness

And also in New York, raw sugar managed to end up 0.2% at 24.53 cents a pound, helped by an annual Dubai conference which turned out not to be quite as upbeat on supply hopes as had been expected.

"Delegates making their way home from the Dubai conference report being bearish at the beginning, but not so bearish by the end of the conference," Nick Penney at Sucden Financial said.

"There are suspicions there is not as much tenderable sugar around for the March expiry in NY as was first anticipated, and that the trade have been covering an overly-short spread book."

By Agrimoney.com

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