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Evening markets: corn, sugar tumble as investors quit

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In the end, it was always going to be difficult for agricultural commodities to close higher on Wednesday, with markets turning "risk off".

Shares closed down more than 1% in Frankfurt and Paris, and were 0.4% lower in late deals in New York.

And a definite sense of liquidation was evident in agricultural commodities.

That was a positive to

cotton

, for which a fund closed a short position, prompting New York's May and July contracts to soar the exchange maximum of 4.0 cents at one point.

The May contract closed up 2.8% at 91.93 cents a pound, with the better-traded July lot adding 2.0% to 90.02 cents pound.

'Massive unwinding'

But for many crops, position closing was less price positive.

Raw

sugar

, for instance, in which speculators have a hefty net long position, tumbled 3.0% for May delivery to 22.34 cents a pound, the lowest close for a spot contract since May last year, as news that India is mulling extra exports encouraged a more bearish tone.

And in Chicago old crop May

corn

didn't do much better, falling 2.4% to $6.01 ¾ a bushel, the lowest close for a spot contract for three months.

OK, the closing of long positions in May corn had a boost elsewhere, involving to a large part the closure of short holdings in the new crop December lot.

"New crop corn is being supported by the unwinding of the massive amounts of July-December corn spreads that were accumulated over the four months," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

Nonetheless, the December lot closed down too, if by a modest 0.2% at $5.28 ¾ a bushel.

Benson Quinn Commodities too clocked talk of a fund seen in the last session "liquidating long old crop corn positions and rolling it forward to new crop".

Cash market signal

Besides the general risk-off feel, investors had other reasons to get skittish on old-crop corn.

The price moves appear a sign that "the cash market is not aggressively looking for corn and inventories are currently well in line with the needs in the industry", Mr Holaday said.

While suggesting that "we are now at flat price levels that will begin to attract some buying interest as overall user margins are improving, especially in ethanol", biofuels plants had not taken the bait as of last week, in which US ethanol production fell by 12,000 barrels a day to 884,000 barrels a day.

Official US data also showed US ethanol inventories rising last week, by 8m gallons, for the first time in four weeks.

Early wheat harvest?

And then there was the US Department of Agriculture crop progress data out overnight.

Not only did this show US corn sowings, while proceeding fast, not going quite as fast as many analysts had expected, but it highlighted the fast development of winter

wheat

, signalling an early harvest ahead.

"The early wheat harvest will help plug the tight old crop corn supplies," US Commodities said.

Furthermore, it would present more opportunity for wheat farmers to plant a follow-on

soybean

crop too, a factor contributing to a 1.3% drop to $14.07 ¾ a bushel in May soybeans, with new crop November soybeans falling the same, to $13.37 ¾ a bushel.

'Switch acres'

Indeed, the much-watched new crop soybean: corn ratio edged down a notch to 2.53: 1, reducing, if not eliminating, the advantage to many farmers of sowing the oilseed.

But then much of the work in switching growers from huge corn seedings to soybeans instead already appears to have been done.

"In several conversations yesterday with farmers it appears they are going to switch acres from corn to soybeans," Paul Georgy at broker Allendale said.

Dry weather in Russia…

As for wheat itself, the grain ended lower, but by a relatively modest 0.8% at $6.10 ¾ a bushel in Chicago for May delivery – regaining a premium over corn, if also representing a three-month closing low - given some support by the position liquidation theme.

Speculators already have a historically high net short position in the grain in Chicago.

Furthermore, there was some fundamental news too to support prices, with German farmers coming in with a lowball estimate for the German wheat crop, and concerns for dry weather arising in parts of the Black Sea and Canada.

FCStone noted "talk that Russia will see much above normal temperatures for the next few days.

"This will need to be watched closely, trade still has the last Russian drought in the back of its mind," (and could prove interesting for trading in CME Group's forthcoming Black Sea wheat futures).

Wheat for May closed up 1.4% at E214.75 a tonne in Paris, and by 0.9% at £178.00 a tonne in London.

By Agrimoney.com

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