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Evening markets: cotton futures crack, but grains rebound

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One farm commodity which had fared reasonably well during the sell-off of the last six weeks is

cotton

.

New York's December contract shed a modest 5% during September, and has not lost an awful lot more since. Until Thursday, when it touched levels not tickled for two months.

However, technical signals said that something may be up with the fibre.

"Notice that Bollinger bands have tightened - something that is eye catching for it often signals a larger move. But what direction?" soft commodities trader Jurgens Bauer said.

He suspected downward. "It is troubling that US cotton is far over priced in the world market, so prospects for demand are poor."

China lead

And he was right.

The day began as one inauspicious for industrial, rather than food, farm commodities, with

rubber

closing limit down, 6%, in Tokyo at levels not seen since August last year, and losing a further 0.7% in the evening session (which actually counts as Friday trading).

Furthermore, benchmark May cotton fell 1.2% on China's Zhengzhou exchange to fall below the psychologically important 20,000 yuan level (at 19,975 yuan a tonne) for the first time in its lifespan.

Cotton prices in China, as the top producer, consumer and importer of the yarn, are seen of particular significance.

'Miserable export sales'

And all that was before US weekly export sales data which, at 59,000 running bales, hardly set markets alight.

Veteran cotton analyst Mike Stevens said that "today's poor export sales and shipments continue to portend more reductions yet to come from the US Department of Agriculture" in its estimate for American exports, as revealed in the next monthly Wasde crop supply and demand report.

Indeed "sharply lower prices in China and yet another miserable export sales number put pressure on New York cotton futures", Mr Stevens, based in Louisiana, said.

Once the December lot fell to 98.00 cents a pound, "sell stops were hit and volume picked up as selling both outright and in the December/March spread took futures prices to the lowest level in two months".

The spread between the December lot, which closed down at ????, and the March contract, which ended down at ???, actually reached its lowest for two months, as investors lowered their idea of the premium buyers would be willing to pay for upfront supplies.

Rains vs demand destruction

That was a weak performance even on a soft day for commodities, as fears for the eurozone debt crisis, and its implications for other countries, continued to put the wind up many investors in risk assets.

The CRB commodities index fell 1.2%.

Copper

plunged 6%, even though there was some idea of improved sentiment abroad later on, helping limit falls in New York

shares

, and gains in the

dollar

.

In New York

coffee

was also on the block, falling 1.9% to 231.65 cents a pound for December (rather than raw

sugar

this time, which eased 0.6% to 26.80 cents a pound for March), so fulfilling of another of Mr Bauer's forecasts.

"Coffee does seem to have divorced itself somewhat better than other markets from outside influences," he noted earlier.

"Yet demand may face some serious issues as the economic slowdown spreads. Heavy rains are receiving news attention, demand destruction is not."

Beans bounce

Against this background, it was all the more surprising that grains took the opportunity to stage something of a rebound.

Even

soybeans

, bulls' hero turned villain, managed to close level at $12.25 a bushel for November, more than 20 cents above its intraday low, despite pressure from harvest and continued talk of cancelled Chinese orders.

Indeed, weekly US export sales of soybeans came in below 600,000 tonnes, half levels expected by some traders, and decent prospects for South American sowings.

"Weather in South America seems to be ideal for the crop getting off to a good start," Paul Georgy at Allendale said.

"A weather system moving through Brazil and Argentina this weekend should provide good coverage."

Furthermore, "poor crush margins around the world are not helping soybean demand", he added.

Headwinds

Grains did even better, enjoying a late rise just as in the last session they suffered a late liquidation.

Corn for December closed up 1.7% at $6.49 ½ a bushel in Chicago, where wheat added 1.8% to $6.30 ¾ a bushel.

And this against some negative factors too, with Ukraine looking more of an export threat now that its president has signed off on the removal of grain export levies, while Strategie Grains lifted its estimate of the European harvest, notably corn.

Furthermore, Argentina's farm ministry sounded an upbeat note, for farmers. It raised its estimate of corn sowings by 340,000 hectares to 4.9m hectares and pegged the wheat crop at 12.6m tonnes, at the upper end of its previous range (of 11m-13m tonnes), if below the USDA estimate.

'Solid number'

However, the late revival in macroeconomic sentiment was seen as working in grains' favour, with traders taking a better view too of corn export sales which initially disappointing in coming in, at 1.8m tonnes, below analysts' estimates of 2.0m-2.5m tonnes.

"This was, really, a solid number," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

"Some called this negative because of the expectations, but we disagree. This leaves undelivered corn sales, along with actual deliveries for the crop year, above year ago levels.

"If export sales continue at a pace of 1m tonnes per week, it will very difficult to keep the December corn contract below $6.60 a bushel."

Hard red hardens

Furthermore, there was a particular bounce in Kansas hard red winter wheat, which soared 2.8% to $7.25 a bushel for December delivery.

A downbeat production forecast for 2012 from FCStone helped, as did ideas of frost bringing autumn development of dryness-tested sowings to an end, and leaving crop in poor state to brave the winter.

"The cold snap continues for the foreseeable future with another real threat of frost tonight and into tomorrow night across Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado," Matthew Pierce, GrainAnalyst trader, said.

"This is just another problems for producers to contend with."

However, the rebounds came too late to save contracts in Europe, where Paris wheat for November ended down 0.3% at E185.50 a tonne, while London wheat for November ended 0.4% lower at £146.75 a tonne.

By Agrimoney.com

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