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Evening markets: crops keep some poise amid market mayhem

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Agricultural commodities closed down, but not out.

It was difficult for any risk asset to avoid the juggernaut of the latest financial market sell-off, which drove shares into another day of broad liquidation. Any stockmarket worth its salt ended down at least 3%.

The flight to safety, which saw yields on 10-year US Treasury bonds drop below 2% for the first time in 60 years, was attributed to economic scares provoked by a downgrade by Morgan Stanley to 3.9%, from 4.2%, in its forecast for world growth in 2011.

Furthermore, there was a clutch of poor US economic data, including badly received factory activity statistics from the Philadelphia Fed, and weekly jobless claims which rose back above 400,000.



added 0.7%, as might be expected from the clamour for Treasuries, while New York crude lost nearly 6%, falling to $81.30 a barrel.

Romanian slap

There was disappointing data for crops too, in US weekly export sales, which for


came in at 520,000 tonnes, short of expectations of at least 700,000 tonnes.



, the figure was 421,000 tonnes, compared with estimates of at least 550,000 tonnes.



data was better, at 548,000 tonnes, nearly meeting analyst hopes, any upbeat thoughts on US wheat shipments were compromised by yet another Egyptian wheat tender going the way of Russia, from which 180,000 tonnes was ordered.

Romania made it into the frame with a 60,000-tonne consignment.

In fact, "the Romania part is the most bearish as it illustrates the amount of competition in the wheat export market", Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

Egypt buys again

Certainly, US wheat, which was in and about Russian levels at Egypt's last tender, last week, was well out of range of winning on this occasion.

Russian wheat won with an average price of just under $276 a tonne. US soft red winter wheat was offered at $295 a tonne (and French at $289.80 a tonne).

Bulls had some straws to clutch on to with a cut to 4.5m hectares, from 4.7m hectares, in Argentina's estimate for its wheat acreage.

'Slow pace'

And this before factoring in the slow harvest of US spring wheat, which from what has most lately been told may be a matter more of timing than quality.

Benson Quinn Commodities said: "The pace of the spring wheat harvest remains very slow. Additionally, farmer sales have been slow and are expected to remain slow."

The dearth of near-term spring wheat supplies has encouraged outperformance in Minneapolis spring wheat (over Chicago soft red winter wheat), and by the spot lot even there – a trend which was evident on Thursday.

Minneapolis spring wheat for September closed down 0.7% at $9.10 ¾ a bushel, with the December lot shedding 1.3% to $8.92 ¾ a bushel.

Chicago's September lot closed down 2.7% at $7.07 ¾ a bushel, closing lower for its first trading session in eight.

'Show me attitude'

That was hardly much encouragement to fellow grain corn, which suffered a sale of an estimated 11,000 lots by funds as investors sought to redirect cash.

Still, even corn settled for a loss of 1.7%, to $7.12 a bushel, for December delivery, less than the average 2.3% for commodities, according to the CRB index, and helped by uncertainty ahead of the ProFarmer crop tour next week, and what it might find.

Furthermore, weather forecasts remain of mixed help.

"The weather forecast for the next four-to-five holds some promise for rain in the Midwest, but the market is in a show me attitude as recent forecasts for rain in those areas have net disappointing results in the dries areas of central Illinois and Indiana," Mr Holaday said.

Cotton whispers

The same factors were credited with helping


too recover from steep losses to close down but 0.4% at $13.61 a bushel for November delivery.



performed relatively well too, for a crop for which, as a non-food farm commodity, is seen as more vulnerable to macroeconomy fears, besides ideas that losses to Pakistan's heavy monsoon rains may not be so bad after all.

"While some may have reported concerns of flooding in Pakistan, my sources acknowledge heavy rains in cotton growing areas, but no flooding expected," Jurgens Bauer at PitGuru said.

But have demand concerns been overestimated too?

"I also am hearing that the free trade warehouses in China have little cotton. These same warehouses were previously full of US cotton. That cotton has been moved. The Chinese are looking for low-priced cotton.

"It seems likely that cotton prices have a lot more room to move up than to move down with supply-side problems as they are."

New York's December lot closed down 0.8% at 106.95 cents a pound.

'More in store'

Mr Bauer was upbeat over


too, saying, of the recent revival in prices: "I cannot express how pleased I am with the move so far.

"Methinks there's more in store. At this rate 290 and 300 cents a pound aren't far fetched," for the December lot.

Much of his optimism was down to technical factors, with contracts having risen back above key moving average lines.

However, there is some fundamental support, from further talk of cold weather over Brazil, the top coffee producer.

Coffee for September delivery added 0.6% to 264.80 cents a pound, with the better-traded December lot rising in line to 268.40 cents a pound.


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