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Evening markets: poor US data keep crop buyers sidelined

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That's all markets needed, US data showing consumer sentiment fell early this month to its lowest since 1980.

A figure of 54.9 for a sentiment index compiled by the University of Michigan index compared with 63.7 last month, and a forecast by economists of a 63.0 number.

It wasn't enough to prompt a fresh round of panic selling (indeed, the Dow Jones Industrial Average share index was up 1% or so in late deals) but it was blamed for a lower close for London


, and a 0.5% dip in New York crude, to $85.29 a barrel.

And in agricultural commodity markets, it only encouraged the more cautious spirit evident on Thursday behind the headline gains in crop prices.

'Continued choppy rally'

"With funds sitting on the sideline for the most part, there is no reason to break out to the upside in dramatic fashion," Matthew Pierce at PitGuru said.

"I can see a continued choppy rally over the next couple weeks with the trade looking at the expected heat blast hitting the central growing region as the next impact."

A fresh so-called "heat dome" is expected in the US starting late next week, although models are at odds over how close it will get to the main corn and soybean growing areas.

Weather service said it looked like the dome would try to expand north and east from the southern Plains and South West, "but a new trough drops into the eastern third of the US from the Great Lakes which keeps the heat over the Plains and Rockies".

At Country Futures, Darrell Holaday described the market stasis so: "Bottom line today is that there are not any buyers of $7.20-a-bushel corn, given the high level, and there are no sellers at $7.10 on December corn," given the hefty downgrade the US Department of Agriculture revealed on Thursday to its US corn, and


, estimates.

Besides, there are the usual questions over the data going on. Benson Quinn Commodities, for instance, noted that "many in the trade believe the USDA was a little low on the soybean yield".

'Almost creepy'

That is not to say that there was not bullish spirit around after the USDA downgrades.

"The market has acute rationing to accomplish. This will not be done if prices sink," US Commodities said.

At Barclays Capital, Sudakshina Unnikrishnan added that the USDA's "sizeable cuts to US supply will keep the market nervous and propel prices higher", adding that she forecast "sustained corn price strength in the second half of 2011 and into next year".

Matthew Pierce said it was "almost creepy" how predictable the November soybean contract has been, looking at the prices cycles over the last few months, which would indicate rises ahead.

"Every indicator supports buying beans heading into the middle of August," he said.

Corn vs soybeans

However, with so much uncertainty around, investors were not ready to make calls like that yet.

November soybeans added 0.2% to $13.34 ¾ a bushel in Chicago, where the best-traded December corn lot added all of 0.5 cents to $7.14 ½ a bushel.

Indeed, soybeans' relative strength was being boosted by spread trading between the crops, Mr Holaday said, noting "interest in owning soybeans versus corn".



for September gained 0.2% to $7.02 ½ a bushel.

"The cheap Black Sea wheat remains an anchor as US wheat is not competitive," US Commodities said.

Milling premiums to drop?

That was something of the case in Europe too, where Paris wheat for November added 0.6% to E198.75 a tonne while London's November lot closed unchanged at £163.25 a tonne.

While European prices have been held up in part by a reluctance by farmers to sell, "at some stage, new export sales will have to be made, and that may well be when we see local values fall to a level at which we are competitive", the UK grain arm of a major European commodities house said.

The merchant was unusually bearish over quality too, given that that crops from Estonia, Latvia, the UK and much of France appear good, or better than expected, on that score, and even 82% of the rain-beset German crop is of milling grade, according to Strategie Grains.

"So, it looks as if there will be little export interest for UK milling wheat and, with a very high proportion of the milling varieties testing 'full spec', it is difficult to see milling premiums going anywhere but down."

Limit up

Among soft commodities,


managed a gain the exchange maximum despite Thursday's bearish revisions by the USDA to its domestic and foreign estimates for the fibre.

New York's December lot ended up 4.1% at 100.52 cents a pound on what veteran Louisiana-based analyst Mike Stevens believed a move down to inertia, in thin volumes, rather than any real appetite for the crop.

And September

orange juice

rose 1.6% to 166.50 cents a pound, recovering some of the 20% lost during this month's market mayhem, helped to gains by forecasts for a hurricane, albeit one not currently expected to hit Florida, the main US citrus state.

However, raw


eased 0.9% to 27.84 cents a pound in New York, depressed by a decision by India, the second-ranked producer of the sweetener, to export a further 500,000 tonnes.


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