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Evening markets: crop fears and weak euro favour Paris wheat

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had another firm day. But not so much in the US, where rain where it is wanted, in the northern spring wheat states, curtailed enthusiasm.

It was in Paris this time that the grain scored notable gains, that not even oilseeds, supported by another round of Chinese


buying, could match.

Offre & Demande Agricole estimated parts of north and eastern France, the European Union's top wheat-producing and exporting country, could lose some 5-10% of their soft winter wheat crop to the cold snap earlier this month.

That equates to some 200,000 hectares, or up to 1.3m tonnes.

First sign?

"This is currently the only suggestion of serious winterkill in France," UK grain traders at a major European commodities house said.

But it was enough to put a spark into Paris wheat futures, with a tumbling euro helping too, or rather soaring dollar, after Ben Bernanke, the head of the US central bank, failed in testimony to politicians to hint at further injection of easy money.

(And this just as the European Central Bank was handing E530bn in cheap loans to eurozone banks.)

Paris wheat for May closed up 1.3% at E208.25 a tonne in Paris, if only by 0.2% at £167.40 in London for May delivery.

'Farmer sales quiet'

That London performance was more akin to that in Chicago, where commodities struggled against a


which soared 0.6% on the idea that it would not be further debased after all by US monetary policy.

OK, there was support for the grain from the continued easing back by speculators in their net short position, placed by latest regulatory data at a record high, and with short positions after all representing unfulfilled buying.

And deliveries were helpful to wheat too, as the expiry process for March contracts begins, coming in at only three in Chicago, and none at all in Kansas.

Low rates of delivery imply better prices can be had in the cash market, or that there are no sellers around – both supportive to futures prices.

And, indeed, farmer wheat sales "remain quiet" Benson Quinn Commodities said, adding that it "had a hard time believing that producers are going to spend a lot of time moving snow to get to grain bins at this point".

'Generous precipitation'

But bears had points in their favour too, not least the backdrop of record world year-end inventories ahead, at the close of 2011-12, and rain boosting prospects for "parched" northern US spring wheat, and


, areas.

"A powerful storm is spinning its wheels over the Upper Midwest this morning bringing heavy wet snow to North and South Dakota, Minnesota and northern Wisconsin," Gail Martell at Martell Crop Projections said.

"The top US spring wheat state North Dakota has benefited from generous precipitation, 0.5 to 1 inch but locally more near the US-Canadian border."

March wheat ended up 0.3% at $6.64 ¼ a bushel in Chicago, ending the month with only a small fall. May wheat eased 0.25 cents to $6.68 a bushel.

In Minneapolis, the March contract added 0.2% to $8.03 ¾ a bushel, down some 3% in February.

'Artificial' support?

Chicago March corn easily beat that, adding 0.5% on the day to end at $6.56 ½ a bushel and finish the month up 2.7%.

(That said, the better-traded May lot added a more modest 0.1% to $6.58 a bushel.)

The grain was also helped by low deliveries against the March lot. Zero in fact.

Meanwhile, Mexico bought a further 120,000 tonnes of US corn, a reminder of the firm export demand, with China also rumoured to be rooting around too.

"Chinese corn is resting at historical highs," of the equivalent of about $9.75 a bushel, only just below the record $10 a bushel, US Commodities said.

"This is giving artificial support to the market on the belief China is lurking under the market."

Artificial perhaps because Argentine and Brazilian corn "is now about $10 a tonne cheaper than US corn".

Traders get the message

China certainly did buy US soybeans, 285,000 tonnes of them, continuing their recent spree.

And against a backdrop of improved margins for Chinese crushers, and concerns over the country's next harvest thanks to dry weather, besides the worries over dryness-hit South American harvests.

Cash prices, compared with futures, in US Gulf ports were "higher yesterday as producers are not willing to let go of old crop soybeans", Paul Georgy at broker Allendale said.

"The continuous lowering of estimates of Brazilian and Argentine soybean production has finally convinced traders that maybe they should be concerned."

Soybeans for March closed up 0.6% at $13.13 ½ a bushel, taking gains for February to 9.5%, the oilseed's best monthly performance since December 2010.

Corn vs soybeans

The better-traded May contract gained 0.6% to $13.20 a bushel.

But, interestingly, this time the new crop November lot could not keep up, adding a modest 0.5 cents to $12.89 a bushel.

With new crop December corn closing up 0.9% at $5.68 ½ a bushel, this pinned the soybean: corn ratio, watched as an indicator of which crop farmers may be most tempted to buy, back to 2.27, from 2.31 earlier in the week.

"The ratio between soybean and corn prices is turning in favour of soybeans," Paris-based Agritel said.

"Thus, analysts consider that the record estimates for corn plantings next spring at 94m acres as shown by the US Department of Agriculture last week could be overestimated."

'Slightly overbought'

Among soft commodities, raw


had expiry intrigue too, with a large delivery looking to be made against New York's March contract, but with a ready taker too, thought to be Cargill.

As to how much, it looked to be well short of the 1.0m tonnes which had been rumoured to be ready to be delivered, giving thoughts that these supplies might stick around for delivering against the May contract.

Besides, technically, "sugar is probably slightly overbought with nine-day relative strength index at 70 and could be due for a correction", Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures said.

And with a strong dollar to battle, making dollar-denominated assets less competitive as exports, the March lot ended down 1.7% at 25.66 cents a pound, while the May contract fell 1.3% to 25.01 cents a pound.

Cocoa drops



for May dropped by 1.7% to £1,493 a tonne in London and by 1.5% to $2,334 a tonne in London after the International Cocoa Organization came in with its first forecasts for 2011-12.

The ICCO estimated the world would see a deficit, of 71,000 tonnes, the fourth in six seasons, reflecting lower West African production.

But the shortfall was less than the figures of 100,000 tonnes that traders have been talking about.


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