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Evening markets: corn prices fall prey to age-old axiom

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Getting there is half the fun. Or, in the case of


, all of it.

The US Department of Agriculture didn't quite on Friday confirm the week-long rumour that China had resumed imports of the grain from America.

But it did announce through its daily reporting system the sale of 1.25m tonnes of the grain to an "unknown" destination.

Big deal. It was, according to Darrell Holaday at Country Futures, "this was the largest one day corn ever announced by the USDA".

Mike Mawdsley at Market 1 had it down at number six.

Whatever, the list of potential suspects for the buyer's identity was small. "That was China," Mr Holaday said.

"I doubt is Tanzania or Cuba," Mr Mawdsley told

Buy the rumour...

But the reaction was, as so often in these circumstances (and as when China was confirmed as buying corn last year) a head for the exits.

"This has been the perfect example of buy the rumour, and sell the fact in the grain market today," Mr Holaday said.

"The fact that the market has retreated after the news is not surprising as profits are taken on futures positions."

As an extra incentive to sell up, the


rose 0.7% against a basket of currencies, on increased expectations of a US rate rise sooner or later, following upbeat comment on the American economy from a Federal Reserve system head, Charles Plosser.

A strong dollar makes dollar-denominated commodities less competitive to buyers in other currencies.

'Not afraid'

And then there was the expiry of April options to factor in, a passing which often reflects in unexpected futures movements as investors play one market against the other.

Whatever, corn for May ended down 1.9% at $6.89 ½ a bushel, while the new crop December lot fell 1.5% to $6.09 ½ a bushel.

And it was difficult against that tide for other crops to sparkle. Chicago


, for instance, fell 0.9% for May to $7.33 ¼ a bushel.

Not that the crops world has turned outlandishly negative. "This corn sale is not bearish news," Mr Mawdsley said. "I would not be afraid to buy corn and wheat here."

But it needed something special to overcome the drag of corn and currency, and overcome the concerns at much-anticipated data next week on US sowings and stocks.

"'We've got the report next week, let's get to the sideline' seems to be what some people are saying," Mr Mawdsley said.

'Less and less confidence'

Actually, wheat in Kansas did grasp a bit of starlight, closing 0.2% to $8.55 a bushel for May delivery, amid continuing doubts over the prospect of moisture for parched hard red winter wheat, which is traded on that exchange. (Chicago trades soft red winter wheat.)

"There is less and less confidence rain will be significant and more concern over whether will help the worst areas," Mr Holaday said.

Benson Quinn Commodities' reading was that "many areas of the southern plains remain dry and chances for moisture before late next week are minimal".



had some pull in Chicago too, helped by rains in Brazil and by some unwinding of buy corn-sell soybean spreads put in earlier in the week.

The corn versus soybean dynamic is particularly important at the moment, as spring sowing approaches, with many farmers taking a toss up between the two. (Corn currently looks the most profitable, but there are factors of rotation and timing, for instance, to consider.)

The May soybean lot ended up 0.4% at $13.58 ¼ a bushel, with the new crop November contract adding 0.5% to $13.50 ¼ a bushel.

Not so tight?

In Europe, crops did considerably better, helped by weakening currencies. The euro dipped as Portuguese sovereign debt concerns drove the country's debt yields to the highest this century.

And sterling remained near 2011 lows against the euro on weak economic news from Wednesday's Budget and Thursday's retail spending data.

Paris wheat for May managed to close up 3.0% at E236.75 a tonne, while London's May lot underperformed, adding 0.5% to £197.25 a tonne, amid some doubts over whether supplies would prove as tight towards the end of 2010-11 as has been predicted.

"On the demand side, the flour mills all seem to have good cover now with any significant demand confined to July," a leading unlisted European commodities house said in a market report.

"It may be that the supply dries up by the time we get that far. But bear in mind… [that] the wide gap between old crop and new crop prices will allow new crop wheat, both feed and milling, from southern Europe to be shipped up here to arrive from the end of June onwards."

Sowings hopes lifted

Among softs,


got a setback from an upgrade from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences to its estimate for China's sowings of the fibre, pegging the rise at 5% compared with an earlier estimate of 4.1%.

Indeed, cotton eased on China's Zhengzhou exchange too.

Meanwhile, New York's Ice exchange, unusually, reported higher cotton stocks too.

Cotton for May closed down 2.1% at 204.49 cents a pound.

Rain on cane



continued to gain on Brazilian factors – wet weather ahead of the main cane crushing season, and news that some ethanol mills had started early, so supporting the biofuel in the ethanol versus sweetener balance in use of cane.

"The latest forecast calls for rains to continue across the main sugar growing areas in Brazil, which would continue to delay the harvest," Hightower analyst Terry Roggensack said.

"There are also concerns that the cloudy and rainy weather that the region has experienced since the second half of February could have hindered the crop's growth."

New York's May lot added 1.5% to 27.86 cents a pound, with London's May white sugar contract closing 0.9% higher at $712.10 a tonne.

Chart reversal?

However, can it last? Mr Roggensack added that "technical traders are pointing to a reversal on the charts, with the May contract making a new low for the move and then closing higher with an outside day up", and pointed to a European Union decision to approve exports to encourage beet plantings.

"The market seems to have the supply fundamentals to trend lower over the near-term," he said.


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