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Morning markets: crop prices withdraw ahead of news barrage

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Friday is a big day for financial markets, especially agricultural ones.

Not only does it bring the latest European Union summit tasked with sorting out the eurozone financial crisis, a meeting which has been grabbing investors' attention all week.

(The latest prognostication is that issues to be discussed at the treaty, including full fiscal union and a new EU treaty, are too big to see much progress at one summit.

Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures noted that it was "clear that Berlin is increasingly pessimistic that the summit will be able to solve the debt crisis".)

It also brings a batch of data on China, which the world is largely relying on again for economic growth, including important inflation and industrial output statistics.

And, for agricultural markets, it will witness the publication of the US Department of Agriculture's latest monthly Wasde report on global supply and demand.

'Uncertainty and surprises'

So an air of caution was understandable in financial markets, especially with concern of limited progress at the eurozone summit.

Even if Chinese economic data turn out poor, there is some consolation in that the country has plenty of scope for easing monetary policy, unlike in the West.

As for the Wasde, "uncertainty and surprises have reigned over the markets on USDA report days for more than a year", Kim Rugel at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

That "has increased volatility ahead of Friday", with grains on Tuesday reversing early lows to close higher, and on Wednesday doing the reverse.

'More unwelcome rain'

This session, they opted to start off much the same as they closed last time, with a negative bias, and led by


, which is seen still suffering something of a hangover from upgrades to Australia and Canadian crops, and the cheapness of Argentine wheat at the latest Egyptian tender.

No matter than more wet conditions are forecast for Australia, threatening more downgrades of the wheat harvest to feed, and threatening more competition with Chicago corn than higher-protein food wheats, at least.

"Heavy rain has saturated the southern and central Western Australia wheat belt over the past 24 hours," Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said, noting that between 25-100mm (2-4 inches) had fallen "stalling harvest and raising further grain quality concerns".

"The low pressure system will move east over the next few days, bringing more unwelcome rain to South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

"Additional harvest delays are expected, and grain quality will be susceptible to further downgrades."

'Rainfall records broken'

Western Australia is braced for more rain too, with a report from state farm officials flagging that forecast signal "above-average rainfall for December to February".

This after a sodden November in which "rainfall has been very much above average for mostof the state.

"Daily falls over 40mm occurred at many sites in the central and southern agricultural areas, with rainfall records being broken."

And while there was a wheat crop upgrade in Argentina too, by the Rosario grains exchange, which lifted its estimate by 400,000 tonnes, the 12.8m tonnes it ended up with is below that of many other forecasters anyway.

Prices dip

Still, Chicago wheat fell a further 0.8% to $5.96 a bushel for March as of 08:45 GMT, returning solidly below $6 a bushel for the first time in a month.

This time, Kansas hard red winter wheat did manage to trade on its higher protein status, shedding a more modest 0.5% to $6.57 ¾ a bushel for March.

And the fall in a fellow grain was hardly helpful for


, which dropped 0.8% to $5.87 ¾ a bushel, continuing to drop despite Thursday's data showing record US ethanol production, meaning record consumption of corn by biofuel plants.

(OK, usage indications were not so helpful, with ethanol stocks up 5% week on week and 9% year on year.)

'Forming a bottom?'

One question technical investors will be asking is if this latest drop jeopardises idea that charts are showing some kind of flood has been reached.

"Technicals continue to hint at the possibility that the corn market has or is forming a bottom," Benson Quinn's Brian Henry said.

"Given the modestly oversold condition of the corn market, I don't believe you can disregard the new low followed by a higher close price action experienced on Tuesday.

"However, many speculative buyers of the corn market are in dire need of two higher closes in a row," and, for bulls, preferably a close above $6.06 a bushel and trade above $6.16 a bushel.

"Price action of this nature introduces the possibility of a correction to the $6.60-6.70 price level."

'Serious drought conditions?'


again proved the least bad of the bunch, shedding 0.2% to $11.29 ½ a bushel for January delivery, given support by continued concerns about South American weather.

"Over the next seven days all of central eastern and northern Argentina will see only 25-50% of normal rainfall and this dry area will extend into eastern Paraguay and south eastern Brazil," said.

"Conditions have turn significantly drier after a pretty good November over much of central and eastern Argentina and south east Brazil."

Given we are in a La Nina period "it is a possibility that we may move into serious drought conditions later in the growing season but it is not a certainty all", the weather service added.

Cotton gains

In Kuala Lumpur, oilseed peer

palm oil

also fell, dropping 0.5% in sympathy to 3,103 ringgit a tonne.

However, in New York,


managed to give bulls some cheer, gaining 0.1% to 92.39 cents a pound for March, in its first day as the spot contract, amid the ideas of increased demand reported earlier by


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