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Morning markets: ag commodites, again, manage early gains

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Third time lucky?

Yet again, agricultural commodity markets opened firm, as the storm surrounding weak US durable goods data, which sank risk assets in the last session, passed.

Sure, Asian share markets took their dose of the pain, with stocks closing 0.7% lower in Tokyo, 0.9% down in Seoul and tumbling 1.4% in Shanghai.

And Asian-traded agricultural commodities got hit too.

Rubber

tumbled 2.3% in Tokyo to 239.00 yen a kilogramme for September while, in Kuala Lumpur,

palm oil

dropped 0.5% to 3,457 ringgit a tonne for the benchmark June contract, leaving Tuesday's one-year high further behind.

Besides, after gains of 9% so far in 2012, "many in the market say the run-up in palm oil is too speculative", Kerr Chung Yang at Phillip Futures said.

Leading indicator

But assets sold off on Wednesday, including many commodities, steadied, with London

copper

holding firm and Brent

crude

posting a 0.3% rise to $124.50 a barrel as of 08:50 GMT.

As a sign of the better mood, the safe haven of the

dollar

eased, if by a modest 0.1%.

And agricultural commodities, many badly hit in the last session, posted notable gains, albeit in a market undertaking contortions as traders position for one of the most important reports of the year on Friday, on US spring crop sowings, with an influential quarterly grains stocks report thrown in on top.

As to whether the gains stick this time, one hope for bulls is that the rally was spearheaded by

oats

, which are seen as a leading indicator in Chicago. "Oats knows," traders say.

Indeed, the grain bucked the negative trend in the last session by posting a small gain, and added a further 0.5% to $3.44 a bushel.

'Huge US corn planting'

Not that

corn

lifted too far from its grump of the last two weeks, adding a meagre 0.2% to $6.21 ½ a bushel for May delivery, continuing to feel pressure from what is expected to be a bearish US plantings report, with huge area encouraged by firmer prices earlier in the season, and optimal weather.

"Most analysts believe recent high prices and favourable seasonal conditions will result in a huge US corn planting programme this season," Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said, clocking a consensus forecast of 94.7m acres, the highest since World War II.

Furthermore, there are growing fears that the US inventory report might not be too clever either for corn, if a mild winter and slowing demand by ethanol plants hits home.

Already this week funds have sold an estimated 39,000 corn contracts.

'Insufficient level'

Still, early on Thursday, even new December corn was spared, after closing the last session at its lowest, bar 2 cents, in a year.

The contract added 0.1% to $5.37 ¼ a bushel, albeit still not enough to keep up with new crop November

soybeans

, which gained 0.5% to $13.26 ½ a bushel.

The soybean:corn ratio, an indicator of which crop is financially more attractive for growers in spring sowings, rose to 2.47, its highest of the last year, and up from levels below 2.0 late last year.

Brian Henry, at Benson Quinn Commodities, said: "Many in the trade have been banking on soybean acreage estimate coming in at an insufficient level" to replace US stocks sapped as disappointing South American harvests force buyers to turn to the US.

"The trade is prepared for a slight increase over the 2011 final acreage estimate of 75m acres."

US Department of Agriculture attaches overnight issued a reminder of how poor the South American season has been, pegging their estimate for Paraguay's 2011-12 soybean crop at 4.0, tonnes, down roughly one-half year on year, and below the official USDA estimate of 5.0m tonnes.

May soybeans were 0.5% higher at $13.74 ¾ a bushel.

'More selling to do'

This was slightly ahead of May

wheat

, which added 0.4% to $6.33 ¼ a bushel in Chicago, helped by a further purchase of US wheat.

After Egypt bought 60,000 tonnes of soft red wheat (the type traded in Chicago) on Wednesday, Taiwan on Thursday purchased 41,650 tonnes of various varieties at tender.

Furthermore, there is the question of how substantially investors are willing to pile on extra selling on a grain in which speculators already have a sizeable net short position.

"The current technical picture indicates that the funds may have more selling to do, but it will likely be light," Mr Henry said.

Sugar sweetens

Among soft commodities, New York

cotton

failed to add to its contrarian gains of the last session, easing 0.03 cents to 94.00 cents a pound for May delivery.

But New York raw

sugar

for May rebounded 0.3% to 24.32 cents a pound, helped on the demand side by a request by US food groups for an increased import quota, saying supplies re running short.

"The US market needs substantial additional supplies of sugar, and a TRQ [tariff-rate quota] increase is the only way to provide adequate supplies at reasonable prices," the Sweetener Users Association said, highlighting also "disappointing Mexican production and exports".

Data later

As for later on, prices of Chicago crops, and cotton, may feel influence from weekly US export sales data.

For both soybeans and wheat, a figure is expected of 450,000-750,000 tonnes, with corn seen doing better at 600,000-900,000 tonnes.

By Agrimoney.com

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