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Morning markets: farm commodity futures open firm, for once

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For once, agricultural commodities woke up with smiles on their faces, making plus signs the order of early deals.

The gains reflected better sentiment broadly in financial markets, on the idea that Europe might be getting its act together in the face of its debt crisis, besides Tuesday's comments by Ben Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, promising more economic stimulus for the US economy should it prove necessary.

Sure, Moody's cut its rating on Italy's government bonds, and by three notches to A2, citing "economic and political uncertainties".

"The negative outlook reflects the ongoing economic and financial risks in Italy and in the euro area," the ratings agency said.

"The uncertain market environment and the risk of further deterioration in investor sentiment could constrain the country's access to the public debt markets."

Dollar dips

But moves by European Union finance ministers towards recapitalising banks, which helped the Dow Jones Industrial Average

shares

index recover to close up 1.4% overnight, continued to cast a positive spell.

Not a foolproof one, sure. Tokyo shares closed down 0.9% at levels last seen after the earthquake. But Sydney stocks rose 1.4% and, crucially for

dollar

-denominated raw materials, the greenback lost ground, some 0.6% against a currency basket, making them more competitive as exports.

Brent

crude

bounced 1.7% back above $100 a barrel, and London

copper

rose for its first time in five trading days.

'Strong possibility of a recovery'

Among crops,

wheat

led the rebound, adding 1.3% to $6.12 a bushel for December in Chicago as of 07:00 GMT (08:00 UK time), if only for technical reasons.

The grain is seen as significantly oversold – meaning that selling has got ahead of itself and liable to reverse. (Such a trend is measured by factors such as the relative strength index, which compares upward with downward moves.)

Notably, in Kansas, the December hard red wheat contract, pressed also by forecasts of rains to help sowings, closed the last session at its lowest since July last year, in the early days of the rally.

Furthermore, Chicago wheat already has astack of shorts placed against it, making funds potentially reluctant to sell down further.

"These [shorts] are supportive from the standpoint of the trade not wanting to get caught short, if the market can post a recovery," Brian Henry said.

"The technicals point to a strong possibility of a recovery."

China buying?

Wheat's revival was one reason for

corn

to rebound 1.2%, to $5.95 a bushel for December delivery.

The gap in the broad financial market clouds also encouraged more of a focus on the US Grains Council's estimate on Tuesday that China is to import some 5m-10m tonnes of corn, far more than Washington is counting on.

"Many have been anticipating China to start stockpiling corn when prices hit below $6 a bushel and we are supportive of this view," Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures in Singapore said.

"We expect China to start buying towards the end of the year once the China corn harvest is underway, lending support to corn prices going forth."

Question of size

Benson Quinn was more equivocal.

"If the US crop is a couple of million tonnes higher, and then the September estimate and Brazil and Argentina do in fact increase their production by 9.0m tonnes or more as currently projected, China should be able to find a total of 5.0m tonnes of corn to import without pulling it all out of the US," the broker said.

"If they want or need 10.0m tonnes it could tighten the global pipeline considerably."

The higher oil price helped too, a reminder of the profits to be made from corn ethanol.

There was some idea of bargain hunting in

soybeans

too, which added 0.8% to $11.68 ¾ a bushel for November, although harvest pressure was still bearing down.

As was rainfall which has boosted prospects for some Brazilian growers of the oilseed.

Thai cutbacks

In Tokyo,

rubber

gained too, adding 0.6% to 304.90 yen a kilogramme for the benchmark March lot, amid moves by Thailand, the top exporter, to support prices.

The country aims to cut active rubber plantations by 64,000 hectares by urging sowings, Jirakom Kosaisawe, Thailand's agriculture director general, said.

"Notably, this translated to around 2.3% of total rubber area in Thailand," Ker Chung Yang at Phillip Futures said.

'More and more 2008ish'

Still, agricultural commodities were not all positive, with

palm oil

dipping 0.3% to 2,803 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur, and earlier hitting 2,789 ringgit a tonne, the lowest for a spot contract for nearly a year.

Talk of large selling by a Singapore-based palm oil group was seen as contributing to the drop, as was a forecast from Oil World that Rotterdam prices had a further $100 a tonne to fall.

And there was still a feeling around that 2011 is 2008, when crop prices suffered a heinous collapse, in disguise.

"The mood is getting more and more 2008ish, with Europe the focus this time," Mike Mawdsley at US broker Market 1 said.

"One would think we are close to harvest lows but outside markets will dominate for now."

At Zaner, Judy Crawford said: "The sell-offs are starting to look like the beginning of the 2008 collapse.

"I say 'beginning' because if they follow 2008, there is a lot more to come. And that is what the charts are suggesting."

By Agrimoney.com

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