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Evening markets: sugar leads crops' escape from bears' claws

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Cotton broker Keith Brown put it so: "There is an old trading saw that goes something like this, - 'a market that does not trade lower on bearish news, is not bearish'."

Mr Brown, at Georgia-based Keith Brown & Co, was referred to cotton's reasonably resilient performance in the last session, despite "the big ka-plunge in the Dow Jones" which "was enough to make even Jean-Claude Van Damme nervous", besides some testing US export data.

But it might just as well have referred to other crops, which also held on pretty well as other risk assets tumbled. Soybeans were particularly "impressive", Matthew Pierce at PitGuru said.

And the idea that crops, and indeed commodities in general, were not in such a bear market gained enough currency on Friday. Wheat soared 3% in Chicago, with quarter of an hour's trading to go, and sugar rocketed 6% in New York.

'Victims to victors'

The current turmoil offers commodity bulls a reason for hope, as well as despair.

For amid all the financial mayhem this week, "there have been indicators that US inflation may be on the rise", the UK grain arm of a major European commodities house said.

"That factor alone may, longer term, change commodities in general and grains in particular from victims to victors whilst the financial gloom persists."

After all, raw materials are the kind of things whose price rises are reflected in inflation data.

Trigger point

To be sure, there are some fundamental reasons to avoid kicking crops out of bed.



, "with bullish Brazilian crop news and potential Chinese imports in 2012 bubbling in the pot, sugar is relatively strong for the time being", Nick Penney at Sucden Financial in London said.

Technically, the sweetener is attractive too, with "support being offered [for New York's October contract] by a succession of moving averages, which may cushion a decline."

(For completists, the 40-day line is at 28.69 cents a pound, the 50-day at 28.49 cents a pound, 20-day at 28.31 cents a pound and 10-day at 28.28 cents a pound.)

Still, what was most relevant on Friday was a warning that a move above 30 cents a pound "may cause further short-covering and an increase in fund participation".

The October lot soared 6.2% to 30.96 cents a pound in late deals, also helped by a weaker


, (down 0.5% against a basket of currencies, so making dollar-denominated assets more affordable) and firm


( a boost to crops such as sugar with a link to biofuels).

Loss covering?

That was a help to other soft commodities too, helping


recover from negative territory to close 0.5% higher at 266.15 cents a pound in New York, for September delivery.

Will it make 270 cents a pound? Rabobank is certainly bearish about the beans' potential.


rebounded from lows too, but not enough to make it back to par, standing down 0.6% at 106.29 cents a pound in New York, for the best-traded December lot, despite Mr Brown's exhortations.

He did carry a cotton caveat: "All of the new-found bullish strength may simply be short-covering by the funds to cover other losses in other places."

'Small crops get smaller'

But cotton was in a minority among farm commodities in losing ground, with Chicago grains notable on the leader board.

"The markets are still very concerned about the theory that small crops get smaller," US Commodities said.

"The trade is fearful of a


yield under 150 bushels per acre and soybeans under 40 bushels per acre", compared with current USDA estimates of 153.0 bushels per acre and 41.4 bushels per acre respectively.

Elwynn Taylor, at Iowa State University, has pegged the US corn yield at 149 bushels per acre.

Corn for December added 2.0% to $7.27 a bushel.

'More and more like the dustbowl'


did even better, supported by position covering in Chicago, where speculators have a net short position currently unusual in the commodities complex, In Minneapolis by fears over the North American spring crop, and in Kansas (where hard red winter wheat is traded) by poor planting prospects for this variety in its US South heartland.

The southern Plains look "more and more like the dustbowl", PitGuru's Matthew Pierce said.

"The 10-day, 30-day and 90-day models show well-below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures. This is not conducive to getting anything done in Texas, Oklahoma and areas of Kansas state."

Furthermore, there have been reports of some cold damage to Argentine wheat, "no major issue but another paper cut to world production".

Chicago wheat for September was 3.3% higher at $7.31 a bushel, with its Minneapolis equivalent up 3.4% at $9.41 ½ a bushel, and Kansas wheat up 2.6% at $8.16 a bushel.

'Yield potentials have suffered'

The laggard was soybeans, which managed a more modest 0.8% rise to $13.72 a bushel for November, and despite continuing concerns over dry weather,.

"Yield potentials have suffered this last week with the lack of rain in the dry areas of eastern Iowa, central Illinois, southern Minnesota, and north west Indiana," US Commodities said.


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