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Evening markets: double whammy knocks down corn futures

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Have fears for depressed US crop yields been overplayed?

Bulls took a double whammy on Thursday, the first punch coming from ideas that the overnight freeze had not been deep enough to cause major crop harm.

"Temperatures in the upper half of North Dakota and Minnesota were cold enough to cause some damage to crop but losses appear to be minimal at this time and more isolated to specialty crops than

corn

,

soybeans

or

wheat

," Benson Quinn Commodities said.

Rival broker US Commodities said that "a spot around Clarion, Iowa, and just south of Minneapolis, did hit 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

"This area is less than 0.2% of the acres. So let's say freeze damage was around 5m bushels".

Not enough to worry investors anyway. "The market is pulling out some frost/freeze premium," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

'Yield surprise'

The second thump was from the persistent talk of surprisingly strong results from the early corn harvest in central Illinois, a top producing state, with ideas of 180-bushel-an-acre yields being passed around.

Remember, the US Department of Agriculture has the average US yield at 148.1 bushels per acre (although the Illinois estimate is 161.0 bushels per acre.

"The idea of a 180 number seems to be a surprise to many people," Jerry Gidel at North America Risk Management Services said.

"It has supported a 'better-than-expected' theme which is keeping commercial buyers on the sidelines."

'Impressive sales'

OK, there are arguments to put against such speculation – not least its veracity. The market is particularly prone during harvest time to investors talking their book.

Furthermore, not much of the harvest has been completed. "We are talking about less than 15% of the Illinois crop at best," Mr Gidel told Agrimoney.com.

And the rumours concerned productive soils anyway. "A lot of the ground yielding 180 a bushel should be yielding 220-230 bushels an acre."

Weekly US export sales were also in bulls' favour.

"Corn sales are impressive at 1.12m tonnes," GrainAnalyst trader Matthew Pierce said, while adding that there was "nothing to China, and pathetic shipments temper my interest".

Shell shock

Indeed, a a concern on the demand side, overnight data showed the number of eggs set in incubators tumbling 9%, showing a poultry sector determined to tackle a surplus of broiler meat.

"That is negative for corn and soymeal," Mr Holaday said.

Corn for December ended down 3.2% at $7.01 a bushel in Chicago, and earlier came half a cent of falling below $7 a bushel for the first time in a month.

Corn vs wheat

That pressed on Chicago wheat, which lacks the fundamentals on its own to support strong prices but has been supported by its reluctance to extend an unusual discount to corn.

In fact, the discount closed quite a bit, by nearly 15 cents, with the December wheat contract ending down 1.2% at $6.96 a bushel.

And European wheat did no better. Here investors were presented with two interpretations of French wheat's failure again on Wednesday to undercut Russian wheat in Egyptian tenders for the grain – although it did get closer.

On the bullish side, Strategie Grains said: "EU wheat is currently very attractive compared with US wheat. Meanwhile… the French wheat price is now very close to the Russian wheat price."

'Confident bears'

But Jaime Nolan at FCStone said: "Yesterday's business done by Egypt continues to flag the simple reality that former Soviet Union wheat will continue to dictate terms, direction and momentum in international trade."

A $ 13-a-tonne dip in the price Russian wheat was sold at, in a week, has "simply increased confidence amongst bears that the recent upward trend in wheat [prices] has finally bumped into fundamentals".

Investors went with the downbeat interpretation, even though European Union weekly wheat export clearances were pretty good, at 406,000 tonnes.

The Paris November wheat lot ended down 2.6% to E196.75 a tonne, closing back below E200 a tonne for the first time in nearly a month.

London's November lot shed 2.1% to £161.25 a tonne.

Canada dry

Oilseeds fell too, despite weaker hopes for the Canadian

canola

crop, which may have been harder hit by the frost.

"Canadian Canola is now estimated at 13.1m tonnes versus 13.4m tonnes last month. This is due to dryness - not taking into account frost damage yet," Mr Pierce said.

But with canola not reacting, falling 1.8% to Can$551.00 a tonne in late deals in Winnipeg, there was little help for other oilseeds.

Paris

rapeseed

dropped 1.1% to E438.75 a tonne for November delivery, while Chicago

soybeans

ended down 1.8% at $13.58 ¾ a bushel.

Cancelled orders

Among soft commodities,

cotton

dipped 1.8% to 11.62 cents a pound in New York, sunk by some negative US export sales numbers, indicating that hopes for recovering demand may have been overstated.

Upland cotton showed a net sales reduction of a hefty 171,300 bales for 2011-12.

But

sugar

rode out pretty unscathed a session marked by the expiry of London's October white futures contract and October options in New York.

New York's October raw sugar futures lost shed 0.7% to 29.50 cents a pound, losing some of its sizeable premium over the March lot, which added 0.2% to 28.18 cents a pound.

By Agrimoney.com

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