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Morning markets: crops firm at close of roller-coaster week

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Agricultural commodities looked to end a roller-coaster week on an upbeat note, helped by a better feel in external markets.

Sure, investors were hardly rapturous. Sentiment could be termed "risk-on lite"



in many Asian markets managed some gains, of 0.2% in Tokyo and 0.5% in Seoul and, signally, the safe haven of the


showed a loss of 0.3% as of 08:45 UK time (02:45 Chicago time).

And investors in agricultural commodity markets proved more cautious about extending losses, if only because of the coming of a three-day weekend in the US, a factor which often inspires more conservative position-taking, especially during a weather market.

Rain, or not?

OK, the latest US weather outlooks were not much different on latest model runs, according to

"The European model continues to insist that once the cold front drives into the Midwest the entire precipitation shield falls apart pretty quickly and large portions of the Midwest see under 0.50 inches," said, in the timeframe of the middle of next week.

"This is significantly different from the GFS model, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out."

'Much wetter conditions'

And rain relief still looks on its way to Russia, the centre of wheat market weather concerns.

"The next five days will continue to feature much wetter conditions over southern Ukraine," the weather service said.

"Eventually, by June 1-2, the entire trough over the Ukraine and Belarus will move bodily eastward into the central district and the southern district of Russia. This could bring about a significant rain event for these areas."

Which looks good news for farmers and wheat bears.

However, "the 11-15 day prospects look much warmer and drier".

Jonathan Lane at UK grain trader Gleadell reminded, "there remains a lot of weather between now and harvest and the market is well aware that the full extent of the Black Sea problems in 2010 did not become apparent until mid-June/July".

'Looking for better opportunities'

And, indeed, investors proved unwilling to push wheat further into retreat in early deals, especially given decent US weekly export sales in the week to last Thursday, showing buyers in town even as prices soared.

Wheat has been the star of what appears a soft spell for US export sales this week too.

Paul Deane at Australia & New Zealand Bank noted that there have been "no announcements of US export sales this week under the 24hr announcement system other than 100k tonnes of hard red winter wheat to Iraq for 2012-13".

"Amid the liquidation across the agriculture complex and general risk-off tone this week, importers could be taking a step back and looking for better opportunities as prices recede."

Record Chinese imports?

Of course, this has been a major concern in




pits, with speculation rampant not just of exporters stepping back but turning tail, and cancelling or deferring orders.

China's ministry of commerce eased fears a little over soybeans by forecasting that May would be a record month for the country's imports of the oilseed, which will hit 7.22m tonnes, up from a previous forecast of 5.63m tonnes.

The lofty figure – equivalent to 86m tonnes on an annualised basis - raised eyebrows, as Chinese data often does.

'Is the sell-off over?'

More immediate were questions over funds' willingness to keep liquidating that net long position in Chicago soybeans.

"July soybeans have retraced 38% from their latest high, and the November contract has retraced 50%," Mike Mawdsley at Market 1 said, nodding to key points for followers of Fibonacci chart analysis.

"The question is, is the sell-off over? Funds will dictate that answer."

In early deals, fund selling appeared on the retreat, with the July lot recovering 0.4% to $13.82 a bushel and the November lot 0.4% to $12.81 a bushel.

'Bullish structure'

Corn did even better, rising 1.4% to $5.86 ¾ a bushel for July and 1.2% to $5.21 a bushel for the new crop December lot.

But was this down to more than profit-taking by holders of short positions, in a week when the grain had lost some 9% as of last night?

"Despite the heavy fall in corn prices over the past week, the market maintains a bullish structure until at least the US new crop harvest in September," ANZ's Paul Deane said, referring to tight old crop supplies.

Harvest reports

However, there remain doubts, evident in a softening US cash market, and reports that Israel bought corn from Brazil at a discount of some $20-25 a tonne ($0.50-0.64 a bushel) to US values.

At Benson Quinn Commodities, Jon Michalscheck noted that Brazil's "winter corn harvest is reported to be just beginning with yields running better than expected".

Returning to wheat, the jury is still out on the US harvest as it enters Kansas, where early yields are, according to Benson Quinn, coming in at 43-57 bushels an acre.

"It is very possible that the later crop was effected more the dryness over the course of the last couple of weeks," the broker said, adding that it was "impressed by how the wheat market held up in the face of a much weaker corn market" on Thursday.

Chicago soft red winter wheat for July added 1.1% to 6.70 a bushel, with the Kansas July hard red winter lot up 0.5% at $6.90 ½ a bushel.

Cotton export worries

Among soft commodities,


held its upward course, following Thursday's decent export sales data, of 230,000 running bales, which went some way to dispelling speculation of cancellations of orders from China, following talk that the country is about to sell some cotton from its replenished reserves.

Indeed, the data "showed no net cancellations by China", ANZ's Paul Deane said, if adding that "any net cancellations made this week will not show up until next week's report at the earliest".

Cotton for July added 0.9% to 74.62 cents a pound, up 3.5 cents from Wednesday's low.

However, raw


was more cautious in extending gains, and stood unchanged for July delivery at 19.58 cents a pound.


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