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Morning markets: Chinese growth data cheer commodity markets

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When is a slowdown in economic growth received as bullish news?

When the country concerned already has enough to spare, and a little less is seen likely to prompt an easing of tightened monetary policy, and enhance demand for all sorts of stuff.

The country is China, of course, which unveiled economic growth of 8.9% in the September-to-December period, humungus by European or US standards, but actually the lowest for 10 quarters in China itself.

The subsequent hopes of easier money sent shares soaring more than 4% in Shanghai, with rises of more than 1% in stocks in Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney too.

Dollar eases

The safe haven of the

dollar

shed 0.6% against a basket of currencies, so making dollar-denominated assets more competitive as exports.

And the way was set for firmness in commodity markets too, mindful of China's status as a huge buyer of raw materials – corn, cotton, rubber and soybeans included.

Copper

rose in London, and Brent

crude

gained 0.7% to climb back above $112 a barrel, as of 08:30 GMT.

And many agricultural commodities posted even bigger gains, with the South America weather problem which has revived grain prices over the last month remaining at the forefront.

'Drought to worsen'

"Argentina's drought is forecast to worsen this week," Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures said, blaming the La Nina weather which "threatens to upset commodity markets from

corn

to

coffee

as dryness in Argentina and Brazil whither crops".

The latest weather model "keeps rain out of the main growing areas of central, eastern and northern Argentina through to January 20", weather service WxRisk.com said, although the weekend may bring some precipitation.

And this after "Argentinean summer crop production regions experienced warm, dry weather over the weekend, resulting in significant evaporation of last week's rain", Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia noted.

"Dry conditions are expected this week, and crop stress may start to re-emerge," although the situation "is not expected to be as serious as that prior to last week's rain".

The prospect of further poor Argentine weather, against the brighter economic backdrop, allowed corn and soybeans to recover some of the group they lost after a US report last week revealed surprisingly large, if not generous, estimates for US supplies of major crops.

Chicago corn for March rose 1.3% to $6.07 a bushel, with soybeans for March adding 1.6% to $11.76 ¾ a bushel.

'Abundant snowfalls'

The one major crop not so favoured by the latest on weather is

wheat

, which is already in the barn in South America, and for which conditions have improved in Ukraine.

The country, whose winter wheat seedlings have got off to a dismal start thanks to a dearth of rain, has seen "abundant snowfalls" since Sunday, Agritel's Kiev office said.

"Snow cover is now established in most producing regions."

Besides bringing moisture, this means protection for crops from temperatures now falling below 0 degrees Celsius, and means farmers can hope that crop which has not succumbed to dryness may survive without hefty rates of winterkill either.

Still, "already, 2.5m hectares of winter crops are in bad condition," Agritel noted, estimating that "at least 25% of the 8.05m hectares planted in autumn could be lost before the spring".

'Additional demand'

One factor in wheat's favour is that "lower wheat futures seem to uncover additional demand in the global market, but also in the domestic market, to some extent", Brian Henry at Minneapolis-based Benson Quinn Commodities said.

And after all, US wheat was the most competitive at the latest wheat tender by Egypt, if ruled out by shipping charges across the Atlantic.

Chicago soft red winter wheat rose, if not by as much as some other crops, adding 1.0% to $6.08 a bushel for March delivery, and nearly losing its newly-rediscovered premium against corn.

Kansas hard red winter wheat added 0.5% to $6.73 ¼ a bushel, with higher protein Minneapolis spring wheat - which has had a poor 2012, shrinking its premium over lesser varieties - up 0.6% at $8.06 a bushel.

Sowings drop

The improved sentiment spread to some other farm commodity markets too, with Kuala Lumpur

palm oil

adding 1.2% to 3,162 ringgit a tonne for April delivery, looking for its first rise in four sessions.

The vegetable oil, besides being a major Chinese import, is also sensitive to South American weather, with Argentina the top exporter of soyoil, the rival vegetable oil.

In New York,

cotton

, of which China is the top importer, added 1.0% to 96.40 cents a pound for March delivery.

The fibre was also supported by an estimate by the China Cotton Association that domestic cotton sowings would fall 10.5% to 5.2m hectares this year, because of lower prices. (China is also the top cotton producer.)

On China's Zhengzhou exchange, cotton for May ticked 0.6% higher to 21,280 yuan a tonne.

By Agrimoney.com

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