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Evening markets: fund selling extends crop price declines

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Where have all the buyers gone in agricultural commodities?

It was hardly a promising day for a rebound in crop prices anyway, given the mounting worries over China's economy.

Mining giant BHP Billiton took fears up another notch by revealing that it was seeing signs of "flattening" iron ore demand in China, such a huge buyer of raw materials.

But many crops underperformed even the average 1.2% decline in commodity values, as measured by the CRB index.

"Money flow out of agricultural commodities started on Monday as the major force behind this sell-off," Paul Georgy at broker Allendale said.

The liquidation continued on Tuesday, even in


, the market leader in Chicago for most of 2012, which suffered a 1.6% decline for May delivery to close at $13.45 a bushel, their worst performance in seven weeks.

Chart signals

Much of the decline was down to technical factors flagged earlier, notably the rise in speculators' net long position in soybeans to getting on for record high, raising questions about how much buying there is left unfulfilled.

And investors' scramble to get out first – independent commodities analyst Dennis Gartman was among those selling


and soybean positions on Tuesday – has only darkened the chart picture, encouraging further sales.

In soybeans, for instance, the May contract's decline took it down through its 10-day moving average line, below which it closed for the first time in two months.

And that only bodes ill for Wednesday, Benson Quinn Commodities warned, forecasting that "a lower close in the soybean market today will likely attract additional selling".

Furthermore, there is the prospect of much-anticipated US Department of Agriculture crop stocks and sowings reports due at the end of the month, fear of which "may help play a part in profit-taking and positioning", US Commodities said.

'Solid soybean yields'

In fact, there were fundamental reasons to sell soybeans too, with latest market talk contrasting with Monday's report by FCStone of disappointing yields from the early Argentine harvest.

"There are reports of better-than-expected soybean yields in Argentina," Darrell Holaday at broker Country Futures said, saying this was "prompting some selling in an elevated soybean market".

"Recent harvest activity has produced solid soybean yields in Brazil and portions of Argentina," Benson Quinn Commodities said, while US Commodities noted "better-than-expected yields being report in soybeans in Argentina".

There was a clear consensus.

Fungus outbreak

That trumped a further downgrades by Oil World totalling 2.6m tonnes its forecasts for Argentine, Brazilian and Paraguayan harvests.

The analysis group cited "new damage in the first half of March from very dry and hot conditions in southern Brazil and northern Argentina.

"On top of that, the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Goias have reported damage from Asian rust fungus, the worst in more than five years."

The Brazilian crop took the bulk of the downgrade, of 1.5m tonnes, leaving Oil Word's estimate at 66.5m tonnes, down from 75.3m tonnes last season.

Frost threat

Whatever, with market pillar of soybeans crumbling, the rest of the Chicago complex had little chance.

"Expect the trade to continue to key on the soybean market as that market has provided leadership over the course of the last couple months," Benson Quinn said.

And for corn, markets also took greater notice of comments last week from Iowa State University agricultural meteorologist Elwynn Taylor, as they continued to turn to academics for guidance through the unusually warm US spring.

Professor Taylor said that the reduced chance of a continued La Nina weather pattern, as is generally forecast, raises the possibility of an above-trend US corn yield.

Funds quit

The May corn contract's appeal was hardly improved when it fell through its 10-day and 20-day moving averages, only encouraging sales.

Funds sold an estimated 18,000 corn contracts, following 10,000 on Monday.

The contract at least found rescue in its 50-day line, at $6.43 ½ a bushel, which fostered some rebound, to see the lot end at $6.47 ½ a bushel, down 2.4% on the day.

That was, this time, worse than


, which ended down 1.5% at $6.42 ½ a bushel for May, clawing back some of its discount to corn.

Still, the grain at least had some support from comment by Australia & New Zealand Bank and Societe Generale.

And there are ideas of soaring Moroccan imports thanks to the drought which is affecting western Europe too, although there were reports of much-needed rain in France and Spain.

In Paris, wheat shed 0.8% to E208.75 a tonne for May delivery, with London's May lot falling 0.7% to £170.00 a tonne.

History to repeat itself?

Among soft commodities, New York


felt the spillover from Chicago selling, with the crop a competitor in the US "battle for acres" - the fight for a place in farmers' spring sowing plans which tends to give closer correlation between the fibre and the likes of corn and soybeans at this time of year.

New York cotton for May closed down 1.3% at 87.90 cents a pound.



for May fell too, if by a relatively modest 0.2% to 25.61 cents a pound, with ideas of a disappointing Brazilian Centre South cane crop still concerning the market.

"Funds are reluctant to buy into the surplus story and are betting that the problems seen during Brazil's last harvest will be repeated." Nick Penney at Sucden Financial said.

"The cane is, after all, still ageing and new cane planted in many areas will not mature until the end of the crushing period."

Short covering



found solace in talk of poor quality beans in Ivory Coast, the main producing country, which encouraged investors to close short positions.

The bean rose 2.8% to £1,519 a tonne in London, for May delivery, but 3.6% to $2,372 a tonne in New York, where speculators have a far more short-oriented position structure.


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