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Evening markets: double whammy floors ag commodity futures

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It seems like a long time since that rather upbeat first quarter of 2012.

Tuesday presented double trouble to agricultural commodity markets. Not only were data released on Tuesday, by the US Department of Agriculture and Brazil's Conab crop agency seen as, generally, negative.

Any chance that crops had of being given the benefit of the doubt, and there was plenty around in how to interpret the data, was obliterated by a dismal day on external markets, which tumbled over a range of economic concerns.


fell more than 2% on Europe's main markets, and were 1.7% lower on Wall Street in late deals.

'May be in for a downturn'

One such was Friday's weak US jobs report.

But it was joined by poorly-received trade data from China, showing the world's second-largest economy stumbling too, in returning to a trade surplus in March but, at $5.4bn, a weak one, and showing a 3.1% drop in exports to the important European market.

Furthermore, Spanish debt fears are rising back up the agenda, with its benchmark bond yields approaching 6% and, for commodity markets in general, the International Monetary Fund warned raw material exports to prepare for lower prices.

"Given weak global activity and heightened downside risks to the near-term outlook, commodity exporters may be in for a downturn," the IMF said.

"If downside risks to global economic growth materialise, there could be even greater challenges facing commodity exporters, most of which are emerging and developing economies."

The CRB commodities index dropped 1.4%.

Big sugar hopes

And this before getting to the clutch of official data, which included Conab's estimate for record Brazilian


output in 2012-13, of 38.9m tonnes, well ahead of market forecasts.

The figure, a 2m-tonne rise, reflected expectations of higher cane yields than in 2011-12, plus some 200,000 hectares of extra cane area coming onstream in the world's top grower of the crop.

New York sugar sank 2.3% to 23.87 cents a pound for May delivery, the weakest close for nearly a month.

London white sugar for May did end at a one-month low, down 2.3% at $630.10 a tonne.

'No guarantees with USDA estimates'

Conab's data on


were not too supportive to prices either, with the estimate for the Brazilian crop lifted by nearly 6% to 65.1m tonnes, representing a 13% rise year on year.

Still, the main event in for most investors corn were the numbers in the USDA's monthly Wasde world crop supply and demand report, which kept the figures for US stocks at the close of 2011-12 at 801m bushels, despite inventories coming in below expectations half way through the crop year.

Indeed, the figure flummoxed many observers.

"There were many in the trade that felt that the stocks numbers guaranteed a 100m-bushel reduction in projected ending stocks," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

"They should have learned by now there are no guarantees in working with USDA estimates


While the USDA downgraded the Mexican corn production number to keep forecasts for world inventories close to market expectations, the report was generally viewed as negative for futures.

Chicago corn for May closed down 2.2% at $6.34 ¾ a bushel.

Differing opinions

The opinion over the Wasde


data, which showed a small cut to the US stocks number, was more mixed.

Country Futures deemed the statistics "not supportive" but, with the world wheat stocks number getting a bigger-than-expected downgrade (albeit to a still-hefty 206.3m tonnes), Rabobank took a more sanguine stance, terming the revisions "neutral/ bullish".

Benson Quinn Commodities said that a "cut in world stocks of 3.3m tonnes was more than expected to offer a little support".

'Off to an excellent start'

But any upbeat thoughts were overshadowed by the better prospect for the next US wheat harvest, as shown up in a report released overnight showing the winter wheat crop rated 61% "good" or "excellent", a rise of three points on the week, and way above last year.

"Wheat production in North America is off to an excellent start," US Commodities said.

"The former Soviet Union has wheat to sell. Europe is now getting rain…" albeit potentially not enough to allay concerns of losses to poor precipitation in western parts since late last year.

Chicago wheat for May closed down 2.7% at $6.25 ¾ a bushel.

Kansas hard red winter wheat for May ending 2.9% down at $6.41 a bushel, the lowest finish for a Kansas spot contract in 2012.

With some European crop fears remaining, and protected by a weakening euro, Paris wheat for May avoided quite such heavy losses, ending down 1.3% at E208.50 a tonne.

London's May lot fell 0.7% to £170.50 a tonne.

'Constructive view on prices'

The hope for crop bulls was that investors would see the bright side of soybean data which included deeper-than-expected downgrades to Argentine and Brazilian production forecasts, and a cut to the US end-2011-12 inventory figure in line with expectations.

"Soybean numbers should be supportive early, but may not provide much carryover support given the fact that many estimates were tighter going into the release of the report," Mr Holaday said earlier in the trading day.

Rabobank termed the Wasde "neutral" for soybeans, but added that "given the expectations of continued old-crop tightness, and concerns about new crop supply, we maintain our constructive view on soybean prices".

But the oilseed could not hang on to early gains in the face of heavy losses, ending down 0.3% at $14.26 a bushel for May delivery.

Old vs new

In fact, bulls' found safety in an unexpected quarter, New York


, for which the

USDA raised its estimate for world stocks to a record 66.1m bales, but cut its forecast for domestic stocks at the close of 2011-12 by 500,00 bales to 3.4m bales.

"That 66m-bale number is certainly depressing new crop December corn," Keith Brown, at Georgia-based Keith Brown & Co, said.

Indeed, the lot fell 1.2% to 87.32 cents a pound.

But old crop May cotton, heartened by the tighter old crop stocks, managed a 0.3% gain, to 89.73 cents a pound.


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