How much did they buy?
China provided a major problem for farm commodity markets on Tuesday, and looked at one point as if it might come up with a solution.
The Asian dragon threw a spanner in the works of many financial markets by lifting its key interest rates by 0.25 points in its latest effort to curb inflation, dashing talk circling metals markets on Monday that the cycle of rises in borrowing costs had been stalled.
Higher borrowing costs provoke concerns of lower economic growth and, on commodity markets, a lesser appetite for raw materials for a huge buyer.
With Portugal's credit rating being cut by Moody's to junk status overnight, there was something of a risk-averse atmosphere at large on financial markets, and the safe haven of the
A stronger greenback is an extra blow for prices of dollar-denominated exports such as many commodities, making them less competitive as exports. This certainly kept a cap on
Still, China looked as though it might provide a solution to the sell-off too, with talk that China had bought 1m tonnes… 2m tonnes… 3m tonnes, more of US
"Rumours continue about Chinese purchases of 4m-5m tonnes - 1m tonnes of old crop and 4m tonnes of new crop," Iowa-based US Commodities said.
Minneapolis-based rival Benson Quinn Commodities upped the stakes.
"The trade continues to buzz about additional Chinese corn purchases that are rumoured to total as much as 8m tonnes over the course of the last two weeks."
But can such talk be believed? After all, while the US Department of Agriculture on Wednesday announced sales of a total of 345,000 tonnes of corn, that was to Egypt and South Korea, with China not – directly, at least - featuring on recent export rosters.
"The problem with those [China export] numbers is that we feel the market would have a stronger reaction higher if it was reality," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.
And many investors appeared to agree. Sure, there were some other bullish straws to catch hold of, including a continued dearth of deliveries against Chicago's expiring July corn, or soybean, contracts.
"This is setting up to be somewhat interesting with over 19,000 open contracts still in the July," Mr Holaday said.
But with a forecast of hot Corn Belt weather looking like it was going to be tempered by periodic rains, the best-traded, and with data overnight showing the condition of the US crop improving, new crop December corn lot closed down 0.7% at $6.08 ½ a bushel.
Old crop September corn fell 1.1% to $6.18 ¾ a bushel, while the July lot, gripped by the technicalities of expiry, slumped 4.7% to $6.48 ¾ a bushel.
Russia won all 150,000 tonnes of a Jordanian tender for hard wheat, at prices reported about $290 a tonne including freight.
(And, indeed, both Kazakhstan and Russia appeared back on Egypt's roster, in a wheat tender announced after the close of trading.)
Furthermore, as Offre & Demande Agricole highlighted, France's wheat crop - the European Union's biggest - isn't looking nearly as bad as had been feared, at least in northern areas.
The news for wheat investors wasn't all bearish, with rains continuing to upset hopes for harvests in parts of Russian and Ukraine.
"Rainfall in parts of central and southern Russia has been upwards of 200% of the normal amount, causing harvest delays," Rabobank said.
Still, Chicago's best-traded September lot closed down 1.3% at $6.27 a bushel, with European contracts weak too.
Paris wheat for November lost 1.5% to E194.50 a tonne, with London's November lot shedding 0.9% to £163.50 a tonne.
Soybeans, favoured by last week's market-changing data on US crop sowings, again fared best, if only by closing unchanged for the August lot, at $13.22 ¼ a bushel, and up 0.5 cents for November, at $13.18 ½ a bushel.
"Signals are mounting that China's imports will continue to show year-on-year increases as crush margins have recently turned positive," Rabobank said.
And, staying among soft commodities, China had a negative impact on
"Talk that China has sold back some physical sugar, taking advantage of flat price rally, suggests that there is no further appetite for the time being from that quarter," Nick Penney at Sucden Financial said.
"We continue to expect a correction to the current rally," he added, noting that managed funds hold their largest net long position in sugar since early March – implying potential selling pressure – and the potential that a crop downgrade expected for cane industry group Unica for Brazil "is already in the price".
London white sugar for August closed down 0.1% at $771.30 cents a pound.
New York raw sugar managed some recovery from early lows to end 0.3% higher at 27.60 cents a pound for October delivery, helped by doubts expressed by Czarnikow over expectations of a healthy world production surplus.