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Evening markets: cold snap keeps grains, um, on the boil

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There has been a divergence of late in agricultural commodities between gaining grains and softening soft.

Wednesday was the turn of New York






etc to show that they could notch up gains too.

After all, it was a risk-on day, boosted by firm data on global manufacturing, which helped


on the main European markets gain 2% or so, and sent the


down 0.5% against a basket of currencies, boosting the competitiveness of dollar-denominated assets such as many commodities.

Furthermore, as the start of the month, it was a period when funds often put fresh money into commodities.

'Bullish momentum dampened'

But while grains took advantage of the benign conditions, and a host of supportive factors (of which more later), soft commodities again were again out of favour, especially cocoa, which for March delivery tumbled 2.9% in New York to $2,225 a tonne.

London's March contract dropped 3.6% to £1,443 a tonne.

Still, the declines were blamed on crop-specific factors such as, for cocoa, the decision by Ivory Coast, the top producer and exporter, to forward sell its 2012-13 crop as part of a reform programme aimed at stabilising farmers' returns and increasing the willingness to invest.

"Bullish momentum has been dampened" by the programme, Abah Ofon at Standard Chartered said, adding that the scheme "might trigger unseasonal selling in the market".

'Decidedly bearish tone'

New York raw sugar's loss of 0.2% to 23.59 cents a pound for March delivery came as concerns over a late start to Brazil's crushing season seem to have disappeared in the rear view mirror.

"With production estimates creeping up from some major producers, the tone of the market has got decidedly bearish," Nick Penney at Sucden Financial said.

After all, India is now expected to produce some 26m tonnes, forecasts for Russia's beet sugar output are now above 5m tonnes, and buoyant production in Pakistan may be about to see it permit 100,000 tonnes of exports.

Russian curbs?

However, for grains, the incremental news, let alone the backdrop, was - generally - bullish.

There are the fears for Russian export levies, of course, as the country attempts to quell its rapid pace of shipments and secure supplies for the domestic livestock industry it is attempting to encourage.

"Given the supply of


in the world, it is likely that the market would solve potential Russian supply problems," Benson Quinn Commodities said.

"But the fact that it is an election year will likely yield a programme to limit access to Russian supplies."

More may be known on Thursday, when Russian political leaders are scheduled to meet to discuss the issue.

'Zero snow cover'

Concerns for the cold snap in Europe and the former Soviet Union changed up a gear too, after official weather forecasters in Ukraine put the loss of 50%, or more, of autumn-sown grains on the cards.

Wednesday's closing wheat prices

Chicago: $6.74 ¼ a bushel, +1.2%

Minneapolis: $8.36 ¾ a bushel, +1.1%

Kansas: $7.22 ½ a bushel, +1.0%

Paris: E216.75 a tonne, +0.6%

London: £167.10 a tonne, -0.2%

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

OK, Russia's was in better health and is generally viewed as having more snow protection too.

However, that does not meat cold scares are limited to Ukraine, with crops in Morocco, a major importer, popping up on the at risk register, and that in France too.

"Attention is likely to shift to France over the next week or so," Scott Briggs at Australia & New Zealand Bank said.

"Zero snow cover and a period of sub-zero Celsius temperatures the next week or so will have people worried."

'Much more susceptible to winterkill'

He added: "It doesn't look dire yet as forecasts show temperatures staying close enough to zero that winterkill should be limited. But that can change."

Indeed, Paris wheat for March closed up 0.6% at E215.75 a tonne, the highest for a spot contract since June, if well below an intraday high of E216.75 a tonne.

The freeze fears gave a particular boost to


, which as Mr Briggs said is "much more susceptible to winterkill at warmer temperatures than wheat", and where the new crop November lot closed up 1.6% at E424.50 at tonne.

That regained it some of its discount against the spot May lot, which closed up 1.0% at E448.50 a tonne, its premium gained by the existing shortfall in European supplies.

'Caught the bears off guard'

Chicago wheat outperformed its Paris peer, helped by the weaker dollar, but also by a large number of short positions which no longer look so clever, and which investors are scrambling to close.

"This fear of production damage has caught the bears off guard. Funds remain short and are now scrambling to exit their positions," broker US Commodities said.

Furthermore, the US unveiled a sale of 120,000 tonnes of soft red winter wheat to an unknown destination, but believed to have been purchased by a private Egyptian buyer, a source said.

OK, low freight rates - which fell to a 25-year low on Wednesday – are enabling importers to source from a wider range of sellers than normal, but Egypt should be easy meat for French exporters, with Black Sea supplies sidelined for now.

The scope for price rises helped Chicago soft red winter wheat for March close up 1.2% at $6.74 ½ a bushel, the highest close for a spot contract since September.

Rain on the Plains

Kansas hard red winter wheat felt some pressure from rain and snow forecast for moisture deprived growing areas on the US Plains, limiting its gains to 1.0%, to a finish at a two-month high of $7.22 ½ a bushel for March delivery.

"The fall from the early high in wheat can be tied to weather models that are adding additional moisture into the system that will move through the Plains hard red winter wheat areas are starting tomorrow night through early Saturday," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

"If the models are correct, the moisture will be very good for the winter wheat."

'Helpful to soybeans'



did better than that, gaining 1.4% to $12.15 ¼ a bushel for March delivery helped by their own export victory, of 120,000 tonnes to China, the top buyer.

"This was rumoured over the last 24 hours, but is has been helpful to the soybean complex," Mr Holaday said.

They also outperformed


, which gained 0.5% to $6.42 a bushel for March delivery, lacking any boost from export success, and suffering some pressure from the Ukrainian news.

More Ukraine winterkill means more winter grains replanted in the spring, probably largely with corn, and so more competition on export markets in 2012-13.


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