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Evening markets: corn tumbles as market looks beyond sowings

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Has Goldman Sachs lost some mojo?

The investment bank on Tuesday issued a supportive report for


prices, saying that even the US Department of Agriculture's latest downgrade on US production of the grain was not deep enough.

However, unlike in the spring, when a negative outlook from Goldman was seen as fuelling a rout in raw materials markets, this time investors looked the other way.

Corn futures had their worst day in a month, falling the exchange limit of $0.30 a bushel in Chicago at one point, as attention turned in earnest from what had not been planted to what might become of the crop which is in the ground.

'Crop getting bigger'

And the prospects for that are not so bad.

After all, the US Department of Agriculture report on the progress of US crops out overnight showed "planting progress and crop condition ratings on corn and soybeans better than expected", US Commodities said.

"The crop is getting bigger, not smaller."

And weather, while the enemy of sowings, does not look to be standing in the way of decent yields for now.

"Weather is generally benign. Overall forecasts are favourable in the next 10 days. For now, weather conditions in the US are not supportive to prices," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

Sharp drop in prices ahead?

Darren Dohme at Powerline Group, noting macro concerns such as Greece's sovereign debt, said that "if a poor crop never materialises - and with Iowa off to an excellent start with potential for a record yield - prices are set to trade sharply lower into harvest because of the poor surrounding economic conditions.

"At this point in time we are losing two bullish catalysts - corn is planted and it looks good."

In fact, on Tuesday the macro mood was much improved, with Chinese inflation data, at 5.5% for May, seen as high, but not distressingly so, and US retail sales data beating forecasts. Shares, copper and crude enjoyed positive sessions.

Still, any corn investors still wavering were given another reason for selling out, and that was the prospect of the loss of perks by blenders of bioethanol with gasoline.

'Lot of negative psychology'

The US Senate is due to vote later on an amendment that would, immediately, suspend tax credits for blenders, and the tariff on Brazilian ethanol imports.

Sure, "this vote is really only ceremonial", Mr Holaday said. "It may pass, but it will not like pass the House and if it did it would likely be vetoed by the President."

But the significance of the vote is as "an indication of how difficult it could be to get an extension of the tax credits at the end of 2011".

"This vote has caused a lot of negative psychology in the market today."

It was a point echoed by Matthew Pierce at PitGuru, who said it was an issue "to watch with a negative impact on corn definitely felt".

Corn closed down 3.5% at $7.55 ½ a bushel for July.

Tactical substitution

That was not enough to destroy the grain's premium over Chicago


. But the gap certainly closed, despite spillover weakness into wheat markets.

One factor supporting wheat is growing talk of substitution of the soft red winter variety, the type traded in Chicago, which is in relatively plentiful supply.

Ethanol plants are believed to be considering a switch, while Pilgrim's Pride, America's second ranked chicken producer, said it had started feeding some soft red winter wheat to chickens in place of corn.

And the US managed too to win a showing at Egypt's first wheat tender since February, with a winning bid for soft red winter wheat from Cargill pitched at $306 a tonne ex-freight – albeit with Russia and Ukraine ruled out of bidding.

Chicago wheat for July closed down 1.6% at $7.31 ¼ a bushel. That was enough to outperform Minneapolis spring wheat too, despite the continued delays to US, and Canadian, sowings.

The July Minneapolis contract closed down 1.7% at $9.68 ½ a bushel.

European drops

The rest of the Egypt tender went to France, at $327.30 a tonne ex-freight offered by Granit.

Not that this prevented Paris wheat for November dropping 2.4% to E218.75 a tonne, especially with the dollar on a weakening track too, making US exports more competitive.

London wheat for November fell 1.7% to £177.25 a tonne, receiving some support from UK customs data showing exports stubbornly high in April, above 90,000 tonnes, at a time when many had expected them to tail off rapidly in the face of dwindling inventories.

Weaker crush

Back in Chicago, grains' woes left


at the top of the heap again, although the oilseed was hardly a convincing board leader, falling 1.2% to $13.63 ¾ a bushel for July delivery.

There has been talk of a fresh round of purchases by China, one reason for the oilseed's relative strength of late.

But industry data showing the US crush at 120.3m bushels last month, down from the April figure of 121.3m bushels and below market expectations, did soybean futures few favours.

New York


was an altogether better performer, adding 3.0% to 155.54 cents a pound for July delivery, while the new crop December lot added 0.2% to 131.78 cents a pound, helped by USDA data showing the domestic crop getting off to its worst start since at least the 1990s, hampered in particular by the Texas drought.

'Impressive performance'

Many other soft commodities were lower too, including


, which came up against some technical headwinds looking overbought on relative strength index calculations, according to Nick Penney at Sucden Financial.

Talk of producer selling also fuelled a 1.7% dip to 25.15 cents a pound in New York's July raw sugar contract.

New York


for July sidestepped the sell-off in many other farm commodities to add 0.7% to 269.25 cents a pound, helped by continued speculation over a Brazilian frost.

"While there were rumours of a cold front, I could find no evidence to support that rumour," Jurgens Bauer at PitGuru said, adding that trading in options may be having an impact on the futures market too.

"The upside skew in call [options] really starts to kick in around 320 cents a pound. In order to get real legs I think New York coffee needs to move over 274-275.50 first, which may prove difficult," he said.

"But that coffee held gains while other markets failed is impressive."


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