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Evening markets: investors spurn grains, but rush for coffee

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Are investors getting their revenge in early?

Grain futures, in corn at least, have a habit of reacting poorly to the annual US Department of Agriculture report on US farmers' spring sowing intentions, of which the next edition is due on Friday.

On average, they herald a drop in Chicago corn prices of nearly $0.37 a bushel in following days, according to Allendale research.

Investors did not appear to be taking any chances on Tuesday, driving the benchmark May futures contract down a further 1.1% to $6.30 ¾ a bushel, taking its losses over the last two weeks to more than 6%.

A further $0.37-a-bushel loss would take the contract well below 2012 a bushel to its lowest levels of 2012.

'Hinting at reducing length'

The decline tallied with ideas of liquidation by funds "long a lot of corn", Benson Quinn Commodities said.

"A large number of market participants are hinting at reducing length or holding shorts into Friday's report."

The briefing is, after all, expected to show US sowings of the grain at their highest since World War II.

"Weather forecasts continue to point to mild to warmer than normal temperatures in most of the US key growing regions," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

"Look for corn planting progress to pick up as the week progresses."

Improved crop

But corn did not just jump of its own accord, but was encouraged lower too by declines in

wheat

and even

soybeans

, Chicago's strongest crop of late.

The Turnaround Tuesday theme which seemed to be struggling for grip earlier on managed in the end to dig its nails in deep.

Wheat for May tumbled by 3.0% to $6.39 ¾ a bushel in Chicago, as attention flipped back from the European Union drought to the better condition of the US crop highlighted by USDA data overnight.

Hard red winter wheat in Kansas, America's top wheat-producing state, registered its best condition since summer 2010 after drought refreshed moisture-deprived ground.

Kansas (City) hard red winter wheat futures fell 2.9% for May delivery to $6.79 a bushel.

Too pessimistic?

After all, the influence from Europe itself was hardly buoyant, despite continued talk of damage to cereals crops from a lack of moisture, with Paris wheat futures for May closing down 1.9% at E213.25 a tonne.

London May wheat ended 1.7% lower at £174.05 a tonne.

"Today we have seen something of a correction as markets struggle to digest" the spree of news on winterkill in European crops, besides drought, grain traders at a major European commodities house said.

"It feels like some people are trading more off disaster levels when in fact today the crops have come to limited harm, so far."

As a further setback to European prices, trading house Toepfer International said that the bloc's milling wheat was "too expensive for export".

'Very difficult to get bullish numbers'

Investors in soybeans, meanwhile, suffered a touch of vertigo, wondering if the rally in prices had got ahead of themselves, despite reassurance from Rabobank, and opting to take profits ahead of Friday's report.

"Can the soybean numbers be bullish given the strength that we have seen going into the report? We feel it will be very difficult to get bullish soybean numbers," Mr Holaday said.

Not that all is lost, with US Commodities noting, for instance, that "exporters are being forced to bid up basis levels in an attempt to keep supplies moving on solid demand from China and as farmer selling has slowed".

Still, Chicago soybean futures for May ended down 0.7% at $13.69 ¾ a bushel.

'Demand to support prices'

Indeed, the turnaround theme extended to New York, where arabica

coffee

enjoyed its strongest day of 2012, soaring 4.8% to 187.35 cents a pound for May delivery, and putting some distance between itself and 17-month lows touched last week.

While there was no obvious spark for the buying, the market had been ripe for a round of short-covering given the huge number of speculators' short positions in the bean, shown by regulatory data late on Friday to have risen to a multi-year high.

Rabobank hardly hurt by joining the likes of Macquarie Securities and Societe Generale in warning investors against expecting a further drop in prices of arabica, the worst-performing farm commodity in 2012, with losses of 21% as of Monday.

"The fundamentals of the coffee market have not changed significantly in the past two months," the bank said, forecasting New York futures averaging 190 cents a pound in the April-to-June quarter.

"Over the medium term, demand for arabica, which we expect to grow at 2.5-3% in 2012-13, vastly drawn-down origin stocks and user buying support will support… futures prices."

'Transitional year'

Cotton

, another New York soft commodity in which speculators had their highest net short in years, also gained, rising 1.9% to 92.59 cents a pound for May, as some investors decided to cover ahead of Friday's US sowings report, which encompasses the fibre.

But raw

sugar

remained out of sorts, tumbling 1.9% to 24.30 cents a pound for May delivery, despite a forecast from FO Licht that Brazilian sugar output, from the important Centre South region, will rebound by a modest 1m tonnes to 32.3m tonnes in 2012-13.

It will still be "a transitional year" for newly-planted cane, "and only in 2013-14 will we see a chance for a more pronounced recovery", the analysis group said.

However, at Phillip Futures, Lynette Tan noted forecasts that "rains over Brazil's main sugarcane state, Sao Paulo, should turn more frequent through mid-April, bringing relief to fields that have been drying out for near two months after unusually few showers".

By Agrimoney.com

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