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Evening markets: wheat leads grains rally amid Russia fears

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Pricing themes on agricultural commodity markets have started hanging around in gangs.

Sure, the prevailing one of the last couple of months, dryness in Argentina, is fading

"Weather in South America is waning from the spotlight as rains are coming where it is needed and harvest weather has arrived in the north of Brazil," Paul Georgy at Allendale said.

That said, it has not completely lost its ability to move prices, with Jerry Gidel at North America Risk Management Services noting disappointing rain overnight as one reason behind March

soybeans'

close up 1.2% at $11.99 a bushel in Chicago.

"Overnight rains did not hit all the areas that could have used it," Mr Gidel said.

Corn vs soybeans

But there was the influence of Chinese futures market which reared its head on Monday, only to be drowned out by Tuesday's main mover on grain markets – the deteriorating potential for grain supplies from Russia.

And even this faces a challenge for the limelight, as the northern hemisphere battle for spring sowing acres hots ups.

"The price relationship between December

corn

and November

soybeans

is developing as it own story," Mr Georgy said, referring to the two Chicago contracts whose price gap is seen as having a big impact on farmers' decisions over sowing the two competing spring crops.

"The current price relationship gives about a $400-per-acre return advantage to corn when using average yield," he said.

"You can sharpen your pencil and reduce corn yield by 10-to-15 bushels per acre for second year corn and still return more than a good crop of soybeans."

'Some sort of export tax'

Still, back to the Russian grain threat, and this regained prominence thanks to a flurry of reports on the export curbs threatened if the pace of exports, in essence, continues for long at the rate it has in recent months. (More on this can be found here.)

"Grains have been supported by continuing concerns that the Russian's may look to impose some sort of export tax to curb the pace of grain shipments," UK grain traders at a major commodity house with substantial Black Sea interests said.

Such fears have, apparently, prompted a rush for shipments while they are still untaxed.

'

Threat of winterkill'

However, the situation is complicated by the region's freeze which is slowing transport operations besides representing a threat of winterkill to winter grains in Russia and nearby countries.

Tuesday's closing wheat prices

Chicago: $6.66 a bushel, +3.3%

Paris: E215.50 a tonne, +3.1%

Kansas: $7.15 ½ a bushel, +2.6%

London: £168.40 a tonne, +2.1%

Minneapolis: $8.28 ½ a bushel, +1.1%

Prices for March contracts except in London, where price is for May contract

"With many plants further advanced than normal they are more susceptible to winterkill than last year."

At US broker Country Futures, Darrell Holaday said: "The concern about the cold temperatures in the entire Black Sea region is legitimate."

Short-covering

This fuelled a jump in

wheat

prices on both sides of the Atlantic, sending Chicago wheat to a, rather ominous-looking, four-month high of $6.66 a bushel for March delivery, up 3.3%, and finishing close to its day high.

Other US wheat contracts failed quite to match that, lacking the large overhang of short positions among speculators, whose retreat in the face of Russian chill has prompted position covering which has supercharged the grain's performance in Chicago.

Kansas wheat added 2.6% to $7.15 ½ a bushel and Minneapolis spring wheat 1.1% to $8.27 ¾ a bushel, even though dryness in northern US and Canada is becoming an increasing concern ahead of spring sowings.

Still, Paris wheat for March soared 3.1% to E215.50 a tonne, the highest finish for a spot contract since June. And London feed wheat for May added 2.1% to £168.40 a tonne, held back a little by producer selling encouraged by the higher prices.

Freight charges slump

Worth recalling in deliberations on wheat prices is their relative value, with Russian wheat no longer looking so cheap.

"Black Sea wheat prices are $270-280 a tonne, US soft red winter wheat at the Gulf is at $266 a tonne and EU wheat is at $280 a tonne," according to US Commodities.

Competitiveness is being given an extra edge by low freight charges, with the Baltic Dry Index dropping a further 3.1% on Tuesday to its lowest level since late 2008, at the height of the global recession, and bringing geographically-disparate exporters closer into contention at tenders.

Basis for argument

Wheat's performance was one help to fellow grain corn.

So were comments from Rabobank that, however strong corn prices may be compared with soybeans, they have already lost some advantage in the battle for acres.

Furthermore, fears for the retreat in cash prices may have been overdone, with Mr Gidel noting that while they have "backed off some, it does not look like buyers have all the corn they need".

Corn for March closed up 1.2% at $6.39 a bushel – a $0.27-a-bushel discount, indeed, compared with that premium which its short supplies had earned it until lately.

Macro headwinds

Soft commodities found less reason for cheer, moving more in tune with a macroeconomic environment weakened by a poor readings on three US reports, the Case-Shiller house price briefing, the Institute of Supply Management survey of Midwest business activity, and a consumer confidence poll.

Indeed, the

dollar

strengthened a touch, weakening the competitiveness of dollar-denominated assets such as many farm commodities.

New York raw

sugar

for March, having started the day underpinned by firmness in Chinese futures, ended 0.9% lower at 23.64 cents a pound.

New York

coffee

eased 0.7% to a one-month low of 215.05 cents a pound for March delivery, sapped by the stronger dollar, an uptick in stocks held at the Ice exchange and International Coffee Organization data showing a small dip in world exports so far in 2011-12.

By Agrimoney.com

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