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Morning markets: crops continue sell-off, despite euro hopes

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There is hope of action to stem the eurozone crisis, but not enough to prevent further losses in risk assets, including agricultural commodities.

Reports from the International Monetary Fund suggested a rescue package including some measure of Greek default on its debts – potentially a 50% write-down.

An expansion of the size of the European Union bail-out fund, potentially to E2,000bn, some $2,700bn, is also apparently in the works.

Whatever, the news was not enough to prevent further liquidation of


. Tokyo's Nikkei index share index lost 2.2% to close at its lowest since April 1 2009. Seoul stocks shed 2.6%, and Shanghai shares were 1.6% lower in late deals.

In a further indication of classic "risk-off" moves, the


, considered a safe haven by investors, added 0.2% against a basket of currencies – so tipping the playing field even further against dollar-denominated assets such as many commodities, making them less affordable as exports.



fell 1.3% to drop back to $102 a barrel as of 07:40 GMT (08:40 UK time), and


, which closed the last session at a one-year low, lost a further 0.7%.

Funds out, commercials in

Nor could farm commodities find any contrarian muscle, despite continued expectations that this month's drop in prices has whetted demand, at a time when stocks are running thin.

There is talk that China bought more than 20


cargos from South America and the US last week, (sales of a little over 300,000 tonnes were reported officially by the US) let alone whatever


the country has, or has not, purchased.

Meanwhile, US regulatory data highlighted, in the week to last Tuesday, the enthusiasm for commercial traders to buy, as funds sold out.

The statistics showed a "sizeable switch in positions between the commercial and the large speculative fund as they reversed an almost like amount of contracts", about 39,000 lots, Jon Michalscheck at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

There are growing fears too for


in Argentina and Ukraine, with Cropcast Ag Services noting that crops are suffering from stress from a lack of rain.

'Is it 2008 again?'

Still, there was no sign of fund outflows stopping. Indeed, Australia & New Zealand Bank analyst Paul Deane highlighted the connection between copper and wheat futures as a signal of indiscriminate selling.

"Over the last month both markets have fallen by a similar amount. The short term correlation between these two markets has jumped sharply, typical of a sell-off driven by financial markets," Mr Deane said.

At US broker Market 1, Mike Mawdsley said: "Is it 2008 again? The focus of the meltdown has been Europe, but in this global environment, anything that happens in the world affects everyone.

"Until the panic liquidation of markets ends, there is no real way to calculate where prices could erode to.

"Tight projected stocks for corn and beans this next year should support prices in this area. But outside panic will rule the day."

Squeeze to be relieved?

In fact corn, having closed the last session below its 200-day moving average for the first time since July 2010, set course for the next downward landmark, shedding 0.5% to $6.35 ½ a bushel for December delivery.

And other Chicago crops were in even worse shape. December wheat lost 1.4% to $6.31 ¼ a bushel, and November soybeans 1.8% to $12.35 ½ a bushel. Earlier, soybeans hit $12.26 a bushel, the lowest for a front-month contract in 10 months.

Bears did have some points in their favour too, a large one being US harvest pressure on corn and soybeans, with the once-a-year jump in supplies tipping some advantage back to buyers (if only temporarily).

And analysts highlighted data from Informa Economics on Friday forecasting that US farmers will plant more than 94m acres with corn next year, the highest number since World War II.

"Such an extensive increase in plantings, coupled with good weather, could eventually help relieve a supply squeeze that has driven up corn prices and hurt end-users of the grain," Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures said.

For soybeans, Informa estimated an 800,000-acre rise to 75.8m acres.

'Buying has been apparent'

The world economy fears travelled too.

Palm oil

fell to an 11-month low of 2,857 ringgit a tonne before recovering some ground to stand at 2,895 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur, down 3.2% on the day.

In New York,


for December dropped 1.2%, but at least held its head above 100 cents a pound (by all of 0.02 cents).

Veteran analyst Mike Stevens, in Louisiana, noted "widespread talk that China was in the market for various growths around the dollar [ie 100-cents-a-pound] level".

"When Chinese domestic prices become more expensive than imported cotton, buying has been apparent on the two previous attempts to move below 95.00 cents a pound.

"This interest is also believed to have spread into other Far Eastern markets."


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