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Evening markets: soybean prices close at highest since 2008

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Yes, grains on Tuesday maintained their contrary knack, spending yet another session moving the opposite way to other risk assets, and indeed to commodities in general.

The CRB commodities index rose 0.3%, while

shares

made ground in Western markets, adding 0.8% in London and 2.3% in Paris, and standing up 0.6% on Wall Street in late deals, after successful bond auctions in Italy, the Netherlands and Spain eased concerns over the eurozone.

But grains were not the story in Chicago.

The day belonged to

soybeans

, which for May closed up 1.7% at $14.61 ¼ a bushel, the highest finish for a spot contract since September 2008. (The better-traded July lot rose in line to $14.65 a bushel.)

And even that achievement may pale if a rumour proves true of a case of mad cow disease in California which, if true (the US Department of Agriculture is holding a press conference later on Tuesday) risks curbs on US beef exports, so threatening herd rebuilding, and in turn potentially impacting feed demand.

The rumour caused heavy losses in

cattle

in Chicago. Feeder cattle for May dipped 1.5% to 148.625 cents a pound, while live cattle for July, the best-traded contract, shed 2.1% to 112.150 cents a pound, earlier falling the daily limit of 3.0 cents.

'Abandonment unusually large'

Still, soybeans for support had the latest in a series of downgrades to South American crops.

Oil World cut its estimate of the Argentine harvest for the third successive week, this time by 1.5m tonnes to 42.5m tonnes.

"The soybean crop estimates in South America are not yet stabilising," the influential analysis group said, terming the drought "the worst in at least 50 years" in northern Argentina.

"Abandonment of soybean fields is unusually large and yields in the affected areas are down by around 50%."

The lower forecasts from the third-ranked exporter of the oilseed means that "in the near-to-medium term, additional downward potential in soybean futures will be rather limited".

'Cash market indicates value'

That was true of the new crop November lot too, which added 0.8% to $13.52 a bushel, taking the new crop soybean:

corn

ratio back to 2.50, seen as the neutral point, in terms of the stimulus it gives farmers as yet undecided on sowings whether to plant the oilseed or the grain.

Indeed, a separate downgrade from respected crop scout Michael Cordonnier of his forecast for the Argentine crop, by 2m tonnes to 41.5m tonnes, hardly hurt prices.

Nor did a frost: "A freeze overnight in Argentina has damaged the second crop soybeans," FCStone said.

Meanwhile, rival broker Benson Quinn Commodities noted that "the firm US cash market indicates value in old and new crop soybeans near current price levels".

And Canada chipped in a little for bulls by pegging its sowings of

canola

– the

rapeseed

variant which is the source of canola oil, a rival to soyoil in some uses - at 20.4m acres, a record, but a little below market expectations.

Indeed, canola itself closed up 0.8% at Can$620.60 a tonne in Winnipeg, for July delivery.

Rapeseed for May ended 0.4% higher at E507.25 a tonne in Paris, the highest finish since January 2011.

Buy the rumour...

Given investors' fondness for spreading Chicago soybeans with grains, the oilseed's rise was not necessarily a positive for

corn

and

wheat

futures.

Nor, ironically, was the announcement by the USDA that the US sold 480,000 tonnes of corn to an "unknown" buyer, believed to be China, so appearing to confirm the rumours that China had been on the prowl.

For one, the announcement took to some 600,000 tonnes sales to "unknown" in the past two days, well short of figures of well north of 1m tonnes being bandied around, so still leaving fact well short of speculation.

"Of course there were some that thought [the export figure] would be more and that is why the market sold off the early surge higher," Darrell Holaday at Country Futures said.

Besides, Chicago price moves on China corn purchase speculation have followed a well-worn path of "buy the rumour", "sell the fact".

Crop downgrades

And selling is what traders did despite the overnight data showing the US corn harvest not preceding quite as fast as the market had expected.

"The slower pace of corn plantings has the industry cutting the amount of corn harvested in August," US Commodities noted.

And there are further fears of US frost too, hitting more northerly areas at the end of this week and early the enxt.

"The worry is that the corn that was planted early and has emerged, will suffer in the cold weather. A similar story can be told regarding the spring wheat," traders at a major European commodities house said.

'Certainly not a consensus'

Still, Mr Holaday noted that while "some feel there will be a dip in temperatures into Kansas with lows of 28-30 degrees Fahrenheit, that is certainly not a consensus."

And bears found further support in StatsCan estimates that pegged Canadian wheat sowings some 1m acres above expectations, and corn sowings at a record high, if in a country where the grain is a minority crop.

Furthermore, the United Nations Food and Agriuclture Organization came in with some upbeat numbers for the Russian grains crop. While the FAO was not so sanguine over Kazakhstan, Russia is more important in terms of world trade, and so world prices.

Chicago corn for May closed down 0.7% at 6.18 ¼ a bushel, with the better-traded May lot shedding the same to $6.08 a bushel.

Chicago wheat proved more resilient, losing 0.1% to $6.24 ½ a bushel for May, and to $6.32 ½ a bushel for July delivery.

'A little nervousness'

In New York, soft commodities moved more to the positive rhythm of external markets, with even raw

sugar

managing a rebound from 11-month lows to close up 0.4% at 22.00 cents a pound for May and up 0.3% at 21.61 cents a pound for July.

Thomas Kujawa at Sucden Financial noted "a little nervousness" among the sugar bears who have been in charge for the past two weeks, driving prices down more than 10%.

After all, "the trade seem to have flushed out the weak fund longs recently," he said, while the lower prices appear to have attracted buyers.

"We hear the drop in the outright has increased a little bit of physical business/ offtake as some buyers are looking to take advantage of the relatively cheap price at the moment compared to last month," Mr Kujawa said.

London white sugar added 1.2% to $582.60 a tonne for August delivery.

Short covering

Still, nervousness among investors in sugar was nothing as compared to that in

cocoa

and

coffee

where, as so often in recent months, a turn positive in the macro mood caused a rash of covering of considerable short positions and a jump in prices.

Cocoa for July closed up 3.6% at $2,284 a tonne in New York, despite some caution by Macquarie over demand levels.

New York arabica coffee ended 2.5% higher at 183.50 cents a pound.

By Agrimoney.com

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