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Morning markets: China puts dampener on crop price rally

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China pooped the risk-on party after Wall Street


(as measured by the S&P500) closed at their highest level since June 2008 overnight.

The trend was most evident in stockmarkets. Shares ended up 1.0% in Seoul, 1.5% in Tokyo and 0.9% in Sydney.

Shanghai shares tumbled 2.6%, their biggest drop in more than three months.

But its commodity markets were hardly too sprightly, with Chinese


tumbling 1%, Zhengzhou


1.0%, for September delivery, and Dalian


0.5% for the same month, with Zhengzhou




showing notable losses too.

House price bubble

The declines were attributed to comments by Chinese premier Wen Jiabao that the country would not go easy in policy terms help out the housing sector, which many believe is overheated.

(This was the same premier who two weeks ago put China's economic growth target for 2012 at 7.5%, the first sub-8% figure since 2004.)

The comments were seen as increasing the (short-term) risk of economic slowdown, in a country which is such a huge consumer of raw materials, including the likes of cotton, corn and sugar.

And that threw a bit of cold water on US commodity markets too, where corn and soybean prices have been being supported by hopes of Chinese purchases.

Renewed strength in the


, after the Federal Reserve refrained overnight in indicating further monetary stimulus ahead, added to headwinds.

The greenback rose 0.2% against a basket of currencies to its highest for nearly two months, making dollar-denominated assets less competitive as exports.

Rains where needed

It took the wind out of the sails of commodities in both New York, where sugar erased some of Tuesday's gains falling 0.8% to 23.94 cents a pound for May as of 08:50 GMT, and in Chicago too.

Indeed, Chicago


had an extra whammy from China through talk that recent rains in the country's important north east growing region had boosted sowing prospects for the crop, and might drag further acreage away from alternatives such as



Corn for May fell 0.7% to $6.57 ½ a bushel, giving back ground to the close-to-expiring March contract, which eased 0.6% to $6.70 a bushel.

This contract last session matched a record premium of $0.12 ¾ a bushel for a March-versus-May spread.

'Adverse effects'

Soybeans were at least the beneficiary of the Chinese planting talk and, with estimates for South American harvests still being lowered, proved more resilient performers.

Chicago soybeans for May eased 0.25 cents to $13.48 ½ a bushel.

Besides Michael Cordonnier's cut of 1m tonnes to 67m tonnes this week in his forecast for the Brazil soybean crop, Cosur trimmed its estimate for Argentine output by 500,000 tonnes to 46m tonnes.

"Apparently, there are concerns about dry conditions having adverse effects on some of the late soybean crop in southern Brazil and eastern reaches of Argentina," Brian Henry at Benson Quinn Commodities said, also noting growing strength in Brazilian cash prices.

"In any event, overall, the demand outlook is solid, the nearby supply is fairly tight, and the trade's trying to buy back some acreage," Ker Chung Yang at Phillip Futures in Singapore said.

Key price

Still, whether soybeans can maintain their rally may depend on a technical factor too, with the May contract having failed in the last session to trade above $13.55 ½ a bushel, the high of last week.

On Wednesday, the lot hit $13.58 a bushel, only to surrender gains.

"If futures close over $13.55 ½ a bushel, the next target is the 85.4% retracement, which would be near $13.86 a bushel," Mike Mawdsley at Market 1 said, speaking in terms of Fibonacci analysis.

However, Mr Henry noted that "there is a strong possibility that profit-taking could develop if the May contract fails to take out $13.55 ½ a bushel, on it next opportunity."

Rubber downgrade

Wheat, with the worst fundamentals, given largest global stocks, was worst affected by the drop in sentiment, falling 0.7% to $6.44 ½ a bushel for May delivery.

And, in Tokyo,


, of which China is a big buyer, dropped too, falling 0.2% to 336.50 yen a kilogramme for the benchmark August contract.

The market has also felt pressure from a downgrade by the International Rubber Study Group to its estimate for rubber demand, pegging growth at 3.4% rather than the 4.6% rise seen in December.

It was left to

palm oil

to flag the flag for bulls, adding 0.2% in Kuala Lumpur to 3,371 ringgit a tonne, continuing to gain strength from data earlier in the week showing a rise of 30% in Malaysian palm exports in the first 10 days of the month.


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