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Juice steers clear of crop price collapse

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Orange juice emerged as one of the few clear winners on a shocking day for the big crops, with bleak Washington data handing corn its worst performance since June.

So much for the fund-buying theme which has gripped the market for about a month, given the prospect of index funds buying grains to bring the weightings of the poor 2009 performers back to base levels.

March corn dropped limit down, 30 cents or 7.1% in this case, to $3.92 ½ a bushel on the opening of live trade in Chicago and stuck there all day.

Would a Friday-style late run of fund buying shift it? No chance.

"Do not expect any index fund buying in corn if it remains limit down at the close, which is very likely," Vic Lespinasse, the analyst said towards the close of play.

Corn did, and funds didn't. Indeed, varying reports saw 39,000-45,000 contracts up for sale from funds and others.

'Very little bullish'

The problem was a Washington report which raised the prospect for US corn production to a record high, rather than lowering it as analysts had expected, given the delayed harvest.

"There was very little bullish in today's reports and a lot of bearish news and the market is reflecting those numbers," Darrell Holaday at broker Country Futures said.

"It has been a very negative day in the grain as the USDA reports have brought these market to their knees this morning.

Indeed, it wasn't only corn that suffered. Wheat for March closed down 36 cents at $5.35 ¾ a bushel, after the USDA raised estimates for end-2009-10 inventories for both America and the world.

Soybeans were the most resilient, closing down 32.5 cents at $9.78 a bushel in Chicago. While the data was hardly bullish for the oilseed, at least it was not as bearish as for the other crops.

'Significant freezes'

So who were Tuesday's winners? Orange juice was one of the few commodities blessed by modestly upbeat data, with the USDA trimmed by 2% its yield forecast.

While expectations for Florida's orange crop were left unchanged at 135m boxes, the reported noted below-average fruit size in Valencia varieties, and above-average drop rates - a sign, perhaps, of disease?

And this was before the recent cold snap, which caused growers in central and interior southern Florida to wage "a week-long battle against the cold, mitigating the effects of multiple freezes but losing some crops especially during the latter outbreak", the USDA said.

On January 11 "significant freezes were also noted in citrus, sugarcane, and vegetable areas west of Lake Okeechobee, and frost occurred as far south as the Homestead winter vegetable region".

March juice closed up 4.55 cents, or 3.4%, at $1.3635 a pound, recovering some the ground lost on Monday when investors feared freeze concerns had been grossly exaggerated.


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