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Morning markets: cotton, palm oil prices buck downward trend

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Grain futures began Thursday where they left off the last session –on negative form – amid concerns for US exports, besides the soft external market tone.


proved a mixed bag after Fitch, the ratings agency, warned overnight of the risk to US banks from the eurozone debt crisis, a caution which sent Wall Street stocks tumbling in closing deals.

French and German discord over the role of the European Central Bank in tackling the crisis hardly helped.

Shares added 0.2% in Tokyo , and 1.1% in Seoul, but Singapore stocks stood 0.7% lower in late deals, and Shanghai stocks down 0.2%.



, as a safe haven investment, added 0.3% as of 08:40 GMT, hitting its strongest for a month against a basket of currencies, and making dollar-denominated assets less competitive.

That helped weaken Brent


a touch, with London


easier too.

Pack your waterproofs

And most crops lacked the spark to oppose a further sell-off – with two notable exceptions.

The first was

palm oil

, which remained in positive territory, adding 2 ringgit to 3,243 ringgit a tonne for February delivery, and earlier setting a five-month high for a spot contract of 3,268 ringgit a tonne.

"Underlying palm oil sentiment is improving due to lower production expectations from the fourth quarter , as dominant South East Asian producers enter the rainy season and the La Nina weather pattern is seen returning," Ker Chung Yang at Phillip Futures in Singapore said.

Indeed, official forecasters in Malaysia, the second-ranked producer, forecast severe rains in major palm growing areas, threatening floods and disruption to harvesting and logistics, besides providing longer-term setbacks to trees.

More Chinese buying?

The second exception was


, which added 0.2% to 103.67 cents a pound for December, and 0.2% to 100.68 cents a pound for the better-traded March contract, amid talk of more buying by China.

China, the top importer, as well as producer and consumer, of cotton surprised in weekly US export data last week by coming in with an order of 1m running bales.

"Do not be surprised with another very good figure" in this week's data, due later on Thursday, Louisiana-based analyst Mike Stevens said.

At Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Luke Mathews said: "Tonight's US weekly cotton sales report will be closely watched.

"Sales have improved markedly in recent weeks, and the key question is if that buying momentum can continue in the face of a weakening global economy."

Export contest

And export data look more-than-usually important for the grains too, amid growing concerns for the pace of US shipments.



, for instance, there has been disappointment that the persistent and strong rumours of sales to China, of about six-10 US cargoes, have not been confirmed.

And actually, any sale would have come too late to swell today's US weekly export sales data, expected to come in at about 500,000-700,000 tonnes, in line with last week's.



, the latest sale by Ukraine to Japan is said to have been the biggest non-US import order for the grain in the last decade, signalling that it is not just soybeans in which the country is losing export prominence.

"Now that prices in Chicago soared by more than 80% in the past 18 months, importers in Japan have increasingly turned to other corn suppliers Ukraine and Brazil, and feed wheat via the government's import tenders," Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures said.

Indeed, it will take a weekly export sales figure towards the top of the range expected, of 350,000-600,000 tonnes, to keep sales at the pace needed (430,000 tonnes per week) to meet US Department of Agriculture projections for the full 2011-12.

Delays? Nyet

As for


, US weekly export sales are seen coming in at 350,000-450,000 tonnes, ahead of the 298,000 tonnes last time.

But that hardly guarantees happy days, given the competitiveness of Black Sea exports, which appear less hamstrung by recent Russian logistical hiccups than some had thought.

"Concerns about the ability of Black Sea countries to execute sales have been alleviated by the fact that export facilities remain full of wheat," Brian Henry at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

"Some shipments may get delayed a little bit due to ocean-going vessels not getting placed in a timely fashion, but it looks like the sales will not be delayed by the inability to get product to port at this time."

Vive l'Argentine

Not that all the bad export news is going America's way, after Algeria, hitherto a large and loyal buyer of French wheat, apparently turned to South America for 400,000-500,000 tonnes.

"This cannot sit well with the French," Mr Henry said.

Wheat eased 0.3% to $6.35 ¾ a bushel in Chicago for March delivery, and by 0.2 to $6.98 ½ a bushel in Kansas.

Corn for December, the best-traded lot, shed 0.4% to $6.40 a bushel, while January soybeans lost 1.1% to $11.86 ½ a bushel.

Index funds buy?

Even Minneapolis spring wheat, which has performed relatively well of late, succumbed, easing 0.5% to $8.86 a bushel for March.

"There is a possibility that perhaps one or multiple index funds that have not typically been involved in Minneapolis have decided to establish length in this market. This is a theory, but it fits the orderly upward trend that continues to develop in Minneapolis Marchand-beyond contracts," Mr Henry said.

At least, until today.


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