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Evening markets: clamour for corn lifts prices to 2-year top

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It is April Fool's Day. So who got caught out?

London

coffee

investors may be feeling less comfortable, after robusta beans for May tumbled 4.6% to $2,421 a tonne, following data showing that exports from Indonesia's main growing area in Sumatra tripled last month to nearly 29,400 tonnes.

Indonesia is a major grower of the robusta variety, rather than the arabica beans which are traded in New York and eased 1.6% to 259.90 cents a pound.

Similarly, investors who chased

cotton

limit up, for the new-crop December contract, in the last session may be wondering if they might have saved themselves some puff.

While US cotton sowings expectations, among Thursday's ream of US Department of Agriculture data, came in low, hopes for those in other major producers are on the rise, as Australia & New Zealand bank pointed out.

The December lot eased to finish down 0.2% at 132.18 cents a pound, while the benchmark May contract fell 2.3% to 195.55 cents a pound.

Spiky front end

But those feeling most nervous may be investors with an unhedged short position in old crop

corn

, with the grain taking further strength from Thursday's USDA data showing threadbare US inventories.

Any number of analysts talked of the need for higher corn prices to ration what's left of last year's crop, with Goldman Sachs raising its target for the grain to $8.60 a bushel in three month's time – which would beat the 2008 record by nearly $1.

The stocks figure, "confirms that recent high prices have yet to achieve a slowdown in feed demand, and with strong weekly ethanol and export demand, point to a further drawdown in old-crop inventories", the bank said.

Darrell Holaday at Country Futures put it so: "The market is trying to do what it needs to do by spiking up the front end of the market in search of a price that will curb the use of corn."

To buy, or not to buy

Sure, the grain in the end in Chicago proved unable for a second successive session to close up the maximum allowed by the exchange.

But the old crop May and July touched the widened $0.45-a-bushel limit, hitting two-year highs. And they closed at their highest level in two years too, up 6.2% at $7.36 a bushel for May and 5.5% to $7.43 a bushel for July.

Even the new-crop contract, which has official expectations of a 4m-acre jump to 92m acres in sowings to deal with, continued its quest for even more.

"With the implied use of corn, a 92m-acre corn number with trend yield and normal harvested percentage would actually not build stocks," Mr Holaday said.

"The question is whether or not the market can buy enough corn acres to make the market more comfortable."

Crush margins squeezed

In closing up 2.0% at $6.37 ½ a bushel, the new crop December corn contract did its bit, beating, besides its cotton peer, new crop November

soybeans

, which shed 0.7% to $13.89 ½ a bushel.

Spring

wheat

lost some mojo too, finishing 0.1% lower at $9.22 ½ a bushel in Minneapolis, where it is traded. (Chicago deals in soft red winter wheat.)

The trouble for soybeans, despite a double barrel of apparently bullish stocks and sowings data on Thursday, was the South American harvest, which has lent buyers an alternative source, and dried up demand for US supplies, at high prices anyway.

"Chinese crush margin are not profitable at these prices, which may provide resistance to US soybean futures," Benson Quinn Commodities said.

Mr Holaday said: "Eventually, this market will need to ration supplies also, but additional demand will need to surface."

Old crop May soybeans fell 1.4% to $13.93 ¾ a bushel.

'Only getting worse'

Wheat at least had some support from fellow grain corn, for which it can substitute in some uses, as well as the dryness affected America's hard red winter crop.

"The damage to the hard red winter regions is only getting worse, not better," Matthew Pierce at PitGuru said, although there was some talk of spots of rain for Kansas.

Still, with Thursday's USDA data highlighting ample US supplies, the grain eased 0.5% to $7.59 ½ a bushel in Chicago for May delivery.

Co-op help

In Europe, there was talk of rain too, for Germany, where dryness has raised eyebrows, if not mounting yet into a full-blown market issue.

Paris wheat for May edged E0.25 lower to E239.75 a tonne, while its London peer underperformed, losing 1.4% to £199.50 a tonne, against a recent trend which has seen it helped by weaker sterling.

A large European commodities house noted that it was "the feed wheat rather than the milling which is beginning to feel tight but even then it's only in certain areas.

Co-operatives in the eastern England "are keeping markets in the middle of the country well supplied".

By Agrimoney.com

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