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Morning markets: crops fall amid Jackson Hole jitters

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Hole in one. One day, that is, when Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, takes the stage at the Jackson Hole conference for a speech which could prove a landmark.

Last year it did in, in effect, lighting the touchpaper on QE2, the second round of so-called "quantitative easing" monetary policy, which many commentators have named as a support to commodity prices.

Will this one set launch QE3 and, potentially, hand a booster to crop futures?

"Many in the trade believe additional quantitative easing will trigger additional fund buying" of agricultural commodities, Benson Quinn Commodities said.

What goes up…

The trouble is the uncertainty ahead of the speech, which on Friday maintained a theme of reversing movements in financial assets made during the mayhem earlier in August.


, which were out of favour then, continued their revival, with Tokyo's Nikkei index adding 1.5%, Seoul's Kospi up 0.6% and Shanghai shares soaring 2.9% in late deals.


revived a touch too, up 0.6% at $85.65 a barrel in New York as of 07:30 GMT (08:30 UK time).

Meanwhile, the likes of US Treasury bonds and


, viewed as safe havens during the crisis, maintained downward movement. Gold, which topped $1,900 an ounce on Tuesday, fell below $1,730 an ounce earlier.

And agricultural commodities, having fared relatively well during the midsummer mayhem, were soft too.

Minny sell-off



which, having fallen only once in 11 trading days in Chicago, set course, in early deals, for a second successive negative session.

The September lot fell 0.8% to $7.43 a bushel, although, again, it was Minneapolis spring wheat which led the decline, following data from Canada, a big grower of the type, showing a bigger-than-expected crop. The Minneapolis September contract lost 1.7% to $9.10 ½ a bushel.

"Ideas of increased Canadian production complemented the relative weakness Minneapolis has had compared the other two wheat markets this week," Benson Quinn said.

Kansas hard red winter wheat provided more resistance against a sell-off, standing 0.9% lower at $8.27 ½ a bushel for September delivery, helped by continued dryness in the southern Plains, ahead of planting.

'Should lead to a good harvest'

If investors were looking for any more reasons to turn more bearish on wheat, Australia provided them, with an official forecast of a wetter-than-normal normal [southern hemisphere] spring in the main grain growing regions.

These include the areas of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland which have found moisture hard to come by of late, and could favour a more optimal outcome for a crop over which commentators have a huge range of estimates – from 21.4m tonnes (National Australia Bank) to 26.2m tonnes (official statisticians at Abares).

In Paris, Agritel said: "In Australia, advantageous rains should lead to a good harvest."

And, as a further downer for US wheat prices, the grain has come in as the fall guy of some inter-crop spreading too, with many investors hedging long positions in




against wheat, which is, after all, in relatively good supply.

Tour debate

Indeed, soybeans, having proved reluctant to stay above $14 a bushel in the last session, were reluctant to stray too far below this time, easing a modest 0.3% to $13.90 a bushel for November delivery.

"Traders continue to watch the ProFarmer crop tour results as it moves towards the centre of the Midwest," Ker Chung Yang at Phillip Futures said.

The ProFarmer results are being given different spins, with Mike Mawdsley at Market 1 taking a gloomy view: "The general theme from the ongoing crop tour is the crop looks less in most places than last year."

However, at Benson Quinn Kim Rugel noted that, for soybeans, "preliminary reports for bean counts were on par with average, or better".

Corn for December lost 0.4% to $7.29 ¾ a bushel.

Data later

The final result of the tour give crop markets an extra reason to be a bit nervous about Friday.

But Thursday will bring some data too, in US soybean crush estimates for July, which Jerry Gidel at North America Risk Management Services has forecast coming in at 129.4m bushels.

As for weekly US export sales, they are seen as showing improvement, particularly in soybeans, where the figure is expected to jump to 750,000-900,000 tonnes from 421,000 tonnes last time.

For wheat, a figure of 450,000-750,000 tonnes is expected, above the latest figure of 549,000 tonnes, with corn sales hitting 500,000-700,000 tonnes, compared with 524,000 tonnes.


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