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Evening markets: rush to cover short positions lifts wheat

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The last shall be first.

Sure, Chicago


continued their upward run on Tuesday, setting a fresh five-month high, lifted by those lingering concerns over supplies following drought damage to crops in South America.

But in New York, raw


, which has been speculators' other favourite, driving it to multi-month highs, slipped back amid technical trading ahead of the expiry of the March contract on Wednesday.

Also, futures' relative strength index, which compares upward and downward price movement, moved into "somewhat overbought" territory, Nick Penney at Sucden Financial noted.

The March sugar contract fell 1.6% to 26.09 cents a pound, while the May lot ended down 0.9% at 25.33 cents a pound.

'Jury is very much out'

Indeed, it was left to


, Chicago's laggard of late, to show the cleanest pair of heels, rising 2.6% to $6.62 ¼ a bushel for March delivery and 2.4% to $6.68 ¼ a bushel for the better-traded May lot.

And this despite Russia overnight announcing its grain exports would hit 27m-28m tonnes in 2011-12, potentially exceeding a guideline set by the government.

That said, there are doubts whether it will reach its target, given that, as Benson Quinn Commodities said, "ice in the Black Sea ports does continue to hamper logistics and exports", and with stocks of cheap, easy-to-get-hold-of Russian wheat supplies already run down, leaving merchants to scour the country's interior.

And, while cold weather does not seem to have hurt the Russian crop, there are some residual concerns over the impact elsewhere of this month's freeze.

"The jury is very much out in terms of what damage the weather has done to the crops in France, Germany and Poland etc, but there is enough uncertainty out there to cause concern," grain traders at a major European commodities house said.

Fund buying

But perhaps the main driver behind wheat's was the generally more positive mood towards agricultural commodities, led by soybeans and sugar, but which, as Mr Penney noted, "has been mirrored in other commodities".

Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said: "Bottom line - there has been a lot of buying in the commodity sector over the last two weeks.

"We have seen in the energy and metals sector and it has been there in the grains."

With speculators' net short position in Chicago wheat, the world benchmark, at a record high, that has left the contract particularly exposed to the potential for a short-covering rally, many tactical investors on Tuesday took the opportunity to get out first.

'Talking about planting soybeans'

The rise in Chicago wheat found an echo in Europe, where Paris wheat for May added 1.9% to E205.75 a tonne, while London wheat for May gained 1.1% to £167.00 a tonne.

And it helped


too, which for the new crop December lot managed to claw some ground back against soybeans, just as analysts began talking of the oilseed winning back acres in the battle to win area in farmers' spring sowing plans.

"Spreads between corn and soybeans values have narrowed enough to have producers talking about planting soybeans again," Paul Georgy at broker Allendale said.

In fact, with December corn ending up 1.2% at $5.63 ½ a bushel, the ratio between the lot and November soybeans eased back below 2.3 to 2.29 – ie favouring the grain over the oilseed.

'Area of concern'

Besides from wheat, corn also got some help from concerns over China, where it is trading at a record high of $9.70 a bushel for oil crop, moving to a premium of $0.94 a bushel over new crop.

And this when dryness in parts of China is making new crop an "area of concern" too, US Commodities said.

"The top producing grain region has had the least precipitation in 62 years. The north east area produces 25% of the grain. They have had 30-80% of normal precipitation," the broker said.

Corn for March ended up 1.4% at $6.53 ½ a bushel, with the May contract gaining the same to $6.57 ¼ a bushel.

Downgrades ahead?

That was ahead of soybeans themselves, which added 0.9% to $13.05 ¼ a bushel for March, with the May lot up 0.8% at $13.12 ½ a bushel.

"Lowering of the Brazilian soybean crop by another organization in Brazil to 68m tonnes has traders convinced US exports will outpace US Department of Agriculture projections," Allendale's Mr Georgy said.

Indeed, Oil World warned that world production will slump by a record 19m tonnes in 2011-12.

Indeed, Benson Quinn Commodities added that "private analysts are now looking for USDA to make significant cuts to South American production" in the March benchmark Wasde report next Friday "with some estimates trimming as much as 10.0m tonnes from Brazil, Argentine and Paraguay production".

Firmer fibre

The winning ways spread to


too, also a competitor in the US battle for spring acres, and which has retained some support from firm US weekly export data on Friday.

New York cotton for May closed up 1.7% at 92.24 cents a pound.


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