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Evening markets: mixed crops struggle to keep up with shares

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Is the correlation between commodities and equities, the idea of "risk assets" moving in step, beginning to break down in earnest?

Commodities managed to hold on to something of a Turnaround Tuesday feel, closing broadly higher. The CRB index added 0.4%.

But that was not a patch on what shares were doing, adding 1.8% in London and more than 2% in Frankfurt and Paris, and standing 1.6% higher in Wall Street in late deals.

While there were many winners in agricultural commodities, gains did not come easy, and required a bit of a story to keep investors on board.

Elastic cotton

Cotton

, for instance, had something of bargain appeal after its limit-down close to the last session turned out to have a technical edge, involving a large and unexpected exercise of out of the money put options.

Furthermore, the fibre, which as a non-food agricultural commodity is more exposed to economic sentiment that many other crops, did get more in the way of help from the factors which boosted shares.

These included a successful Spanish government bond auction, easing concerns about that country's debt load, a strong Zew survey of economic sentiment in Germany, and some stronger-than-expected corporate results, from the likes of Coca-Cola.

New York cotton added 1.5% to 89.43 cents a pound for May, and 1.2% to 88.25 cents a pound for the better-traded July contract, which gave back its premium over the spot lot.

'Uneven weather'

Cocoa

for July, New York's best-traded lot, added 2.5% to $2,286 a tonne, continuing to gain support from ideas of robust demand and fears for supply in parts of West Africa – cocoa is one of the few crops favoured by the La Nina weather conditions heading for the exits.

Lynette Tan at Philip Futures reminded that Monday's data from Cocobod, the industry regulator in Ghana, the second-ranked cocoa producer, showing a 3.5% fall in purchases so far in 2011-12 came "amid fears of a production shortfall".

"Key industry players, including farmers have expressed fears that Cocobod might not meet" a revised target of buying 950,000 tonnes of cocoa during the season, "due to uneven weather conditions likely to stunt pod development", Ms Tan said.

At Barclays Capital, Sudakshina Unnikrishnan flagged a continued boost from "stronger-than-expected rise in first quarter European grindings", as revealed on Friday.

These factors have been given legs in price terms by their impact on prompting short-covering by speculators, which as of a week ago held a historically high net short position of 16,200 contracts.

'Alarming reports'

But in Chicago, the picture was more mixed.

Soybeans

managed gains, adding 0.4% to $14.25 ¾ a bushel for May delivery, as Oil World kept supply fears alive by downgrading its forecasts for South American production, again, besides warning over "alarming reports" of damage to

rapeseed

, the rival oilseed, in Europe.

The weak Argentine and Brazilian crops will fuel a 26.6m-tonne drop to 239m tonnes in world soybean production in 2011-12, an "unprecedented" decline, Oil World said.

"The tightness is going to spill over to at least the first of the world crop season 2012-13, when a sharp decline in South American exports will raise the dependence on US supplies."

To rub the point home, the US Department of Agriculture revealed through its daily reporting system, the sale of 225,000 tonnes of soybeans for delivery to "unknown destinations".

In Paris, rapeseed futures rose too, adding 1.6% to E499.50 a tonne, within sight of last 233k's 14-month high of E508.50 a tonne.

'Another record pace'

However,

corn

struggled in Chicago, depressed in part by the thought of strong sowings data due later, when the USDA unveils its (delayed) weekly Crop Progress report.

The trade is expecting a figure of US corn plantings being 17-22% completed, although US Commodities believes a figure as high as 25% is possible.

At broker Allendale, Paul Georgy said: "We are expecting another record pace with around 20% of US corn crop in the ground.

"The previous record corn planting pace was made by two years, 2004 and 2010, which also made record yields."

China buying – or not

Mr Georgy added: "The 'rain makes grain' attitude has traders bull spreading corn or outright selling December futures."

However, to be fair, it was the old crop May lot which fell, by 1.0% to $6.16 ¾ a bushel, while the new crop December contract added 0.7% to $5.25 a bushel.

And this despite numerous rumours of China returning to buy the grain.

Still, there were rumours only, with FCStone instead focusing on report that "China is on the sidelines at this time".

Benson Quinn Commodities took a somewhat in between view, saying "US corn offers work into China, but may not be there best alternative".

'Support from dry areas'

Whatever, corn's soft performance dragged on fellow down

wheat

, which having spent much of the day in positive territory, closed down 0.1% in Chicago at $6.15 ½ a bushel for May delivery.

And this despite Kazakhstan downgrading its export hopes, thanks to logistical difficulties.

Furthermore, weather fears spreading from Europe, where drought-hit Spain forecast a 25% drop in its output of winter grains.

"There is some talk of hot and dry conditions in the Black Sea region, dry conditions in portions of the European Union, and a drier weather pattern in the Canadian Prairies," Benson Quinn said.

Indeed, wheat had earlier "managed to gain some traction, as one has to question the willingness of the trade to continue to press the market as we move into oversold conditions", with speculators holding heavy net shorts in the grain.

US Commodities said that wheat "found support from dry areas in Canada and Russia".

'Balance sheet is tight'

Still, that was Kansas wheat which managed gains in the US, adding 0.2% to $6.32 a bushel for May, while in Europe Paris wheat added 1.1% to E211.75 a tonne for May, gaining support from the Spanish estimate.

London wheat for May fell all of 5p to £176.45 a tonne despite export data signalling potentially squeezed supplies.

"As the export figures would indicate, the old crop balance sheet is tight," grain traders at a major European commodities house said.

They added that London's May contract was "becoming 'technical,' trading at the same price or even a premium during some of the day to the July futures.

"Buyers of physical wheat aren't necessarily following the May futures, so fresh trade today has been hard to come by."

By Agrimoney.com

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