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Morning markets: data fears snuff out crop price volatility

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With the countdown to two key US Department of Agriculture reports nearing zero, investor jitters began to reach overdrive on Wednesday.

The result? Little direction, in early deals at least.

Low volumes were evident in the electronic trading session. And low volatility too as, with a little over 24 hours to go before the USDA estimates on US crop sowings and March 1 inventories, investors proved reluctant to shift for fear to going the wrong way against a strong tide.

"This much hyped report has the trade very twitching these past couple days, with some suggesting Thursday could be either a limit up or limit down day," Kim Rugel at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

"With such extreme uncertainty the trade has been prudent trimming both long and short positions."

Currency signal

With the


a touch stronger, on Tuesday's comments from a Federal Reserve system boss, James Bullard, that easy US monetary policy should be curtailed, the default move for most commodities might be considered down.

A stronger greenback makes dollar-denominated assets less competitive in export markets.



eased in London and


was a touch lower too, down 0.2% at $7.37 ¼ a bushel for May as of 08:40 UK time (07:40 GMT), with some temptation to take profits after weather-inspired gains in the last session, and with some investors noting a little short wheat-long corn spreading going on.

Taking opposing positions in different grains, or different contracts in a single crop, is a common way for investors to lower the risks of an outright, all-on-the-nose position.


was, indeed, 0.4% higher at $6.74 ½ a bushel for May.

'Vast swathe'

Signally, the new crop December lot, which outperformed in the last session amid the race between corn and other crops for US acres, was in line this time, up 0.4% at $6.02 ½ a bushel.

Sure, as Ker Chung Yang at Phillip Futures, noted there is "continued talk that corn still needs to buy more acreage to meet the demand projections.

But, citing information from industry sources, he added. "The potential profit advantage in planting corn over soybeans has slumped 35% this year, but still remains high enough to push US farmers into seeding a vast swathe of land to the feed grain."

Corn vs cotton vs soybeans

Whatever, December corn was hardly roaring ahead of


, which were 0.2% higher at $13.57 a bushel for the new crop November lot.

The May soybean contract was 0.3% higher at $13.65 a bushel for May.


was, for cotton, muted too, adding 1.5% to 197.78 cents a pound in New York, well short of the moves up or down the exchange limit that investors have become used too.

The fibre is also involved in the US acreage battle but, for old crop at least, is taking significant signal from China, the top cotton importer, where Zhengzhou futures posted small gains.

Stocks debate

Will the quiet last? There is much dispute about prospects for Thursday's USDA stocks data, let alone the sowings estimates, which could continue to affect investor positioning ahead of the statistics.

Jon Michalscheck at Benson Quinn Commodities noted "ongoing concerns that old crop corn stocks will be larger than expected"

"There appears to be a large contingent of analysts that are convinced that this year's superior quality crop will lead towards less having to be fed, along with less having to be ground for ethanol to provide the same results as a year ago.

"If correct we should see a large pool of stocks on the upcoming report."

Still, on the more bullish side, he also noted that "cash selling from the producer seems to have slowed considerably since we have broken down from the February highs".

'Back to weather'

And after tomorrow's data, weather is expected to reassert itself as a major influence.

"The market will react quickly to whatever the numbers are, and then its back to weather," Mike Mawdsley at Market 1 said.

"Looking at the eight-to-14 day forecasts that have been released, it would appear it will be a slow start to the [US spring] planting season.

"Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio go back on the wet side into April 11. We note temperatures are also predicted to be on the cool side."

Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia noted, besides the ongoing dryness in US hard red winter wheat areas, "expectations of spring planting delays in Canada and northern US" as moisture levels are boosted by the melting of heavy winter snows, besides whatever extra rainfall the elements throw in.


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