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Evening markets: looming report stops crops straying far

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Left a bit, right a bit.

Wednesday gave grain traders their last chance to position, in live Chicago trading, ahead of the US Department of Agriculture's latest Wasde crop supply and demand report, a highpoint of the farm commodities month.

The results were hardly startling, with the main grains ending near opening levels in Chicago.

But that belied choppy movement in between.

"We have seen a much more volatile market today than we have seen in previous sessions," Darrell Holaday said.

Data ahead

External markets didn't give much guidance, proving indecisive for a second day, with the


and Wall Street


both standing less than 0.1% from last night's close as of 20:00 GMT.

Greece's failure to agree terms on a second bailout programme continued to counter markets' broadly, more bullish sentiment.

But there was enough in the agricultural space for investors to get a grasp of, even before considering whether forecasts are right for the Wasde, that the USDA will cut estimates for South American crops as much as markets are expecting.

For Brazil, the corn


is seen pegged by the Wasde at 59.8m tonnes, a cut of 1.2m tonnes on the last number, and for


at 71.7m tonnes, a 2.3m-tonne downgrade, according to a Dow Jones poll of analysts.

For Argentina, the corn number is expected to be cut 3.5m tonnes to 22.5m tonnes, and the soybean number by 2.0m tonnes to 48.5m tonnes.

'Margins are negative'

Ideas that the Wasde will also raise the forecast for US consumption of corn in making ethanol took a knock with the US estimating domestic production of the biofuel at 923,000 barrels a day last week, down 16,000 barrels a day.

Meanwhile, ethanol stocks rose 472,000 barrels to 21.06m barrels.

"Ethanol margins are negative and the consensus is that corn needs to be at least $0.20 a bushel lower to move the industry back to breakeven levels," Mr Holaday said.

'Crews abandoning ships'

However, the bearish impact of that data was countered by, besides the prospect of the downgrade to South American crops, ideas that US exporters were winning trade from buyers left in the lurch as bad weather strained logistics in the former Soviet Union.

Transport there paints "not a good picture at the moment", a grain traders at a large European commodities house, with Black Sea interests, said, noting "ships running out of fuel /food, crews abandoning ships and the ice breakers unable to move to get to these vessels and assist".

In the US, broker Benson Quinn Commodities flagged "talk overnight that a couple cargos of corn and


that were to load out of Black Sea and Baltic Sea have been switched to US origin".

Indeed, there was a report that Spain bought 200,000 tonnes of US wheat, a marked reversal from a couple of months ago, when US buyers were purchasing from the UK.

'Another Arctic blast'

That would fit with the idea of the elevated Paris-Chicago spread highlighted by Australia & New Zealand Bank, but which turned tail when it had been spotted.

Paris wheat for March closed down 2.5% at E216.00 a tonne for March, underperforming its Chicago peer, which ended down 0.2% at $6.60 ¾ a bushel.

The declines came despite ideas of fresh cold due for parts of Europe and the former Soviet Union.

"Russia is expected to get another Arctic blast next week," US Commodities said.

"This is a bit of a surprise, but the damage has been done already."

'Slow export pace'

Chicago corn managed to gain 0.25 cents to $6.42 ½ a bushel for March, potentially benefitting from the unwinding of some of those long wheat-short corn spreads which have been popular of late.

The contract traded a decent volume too, of more than 200,000 contracts, belying ideas that the prospect of the Wasde might dampen trade.

As for soybeans, they eased 0.5 cents to $12.31 ½ a bushel on average volumes, taking some support from the prospect of Wasde changes to counter dampened hopes for Chinese imports.

"The trade remains concerned with the slow export pace and the fear China's soybean import pace is overstated," broker US Commodities said.

China stockpiling

Among soft commodities,


got help from China's announcement that it is to stockpile 1m tonnes of white sugar, from the domestic market, in state reserves.

It will purchase an initial 500,000 tonnes at 6,550 yuan ($1,000) a tonne from Friday, the National Development and Reform Commission said.

White sugar for March added 0.4% to $647.00 a tonne in London, while New York raw sugar gained 0.3% to 24.48 cents a pound.

Sowings down?

But New York


for March dropped 1.0% to 93.62 cents a pound in nerves both before the Wasde and, on Friday, the National Cotton Council's annual survey on US plantings.

The market is expecting a decline of at least 10% in sowings, thanks to weaker prices.

"This will not necessarily result in significant production shortfalls as compared to 2011, since last year many fields were not harvested because of the drought," Commerzbank analysts said.

"Furthermore, per acreage yields on the harvested fields were low due to the lack of rainfall."


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