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Morning markets: grain futures freeze as Bernanke talk nears

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Most assets had one reason to be cautious – the speech by Ben Bernanke, the head of the US Federal Reserve, on which investors are pinning hopes of measures to get the world's top economy back on its feet. Or even its knees.

"Atlas' weight on Bernanke," was how Standard Chartered trailed the speech, adding that "the greatest danger is that Bernanke provides nothing new".

But agricultural commodities had an extra reason too - a pronouncement by ProFarmer later on the results of their Midwest crop tour, which will give further insight into the corn and soybean yield that US farmers can expect.

It was little surprising that as of 07:45 GMT (08:45 UK time) a mood of caution reined both on external markets - where with Tokyo


closed up 0.3%, Shanghai shares were trading down 0.2% in late deals and New York


was 0.1% lower – and among farm commodity futures.

Tour result

Not that there isn't a huge debate about US crop prospects ongoing, notably in


, for which even better weather now will be too late to make too much difference. For


, rain on dry areas could still prove something of an epiphany.

But the "right" futures price "could be difficult to arrive at with so much uncertainty still out in front of us as to what the actual yield will end up being", Jon Michalscheck at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

From reports of the ProFarmer tour so far, "it would appear that the [corn yield] number should come in lower than the US Department of Agriculture August estimate of 153 bushels per acre, but we will have to wait to get their official results".

Mike Mawdsley at Market 1 said: "Weather looks to be on the dry side which will add to the bulls' argument of yields continuing to slip.

"I would still expect sharp breaks to be bought at this point."

Price motivation

But there was little movement early on, with Chicago's December corn contract 0.25 cents higher at $7.34 ¾ a bushel, and the November soybean lot down all of 2 cents at $13.90 ¾ a bushel.

Sure, there was note of last night's estimates from the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange that Argentine corn farmers are to plant 9% more corn.

"Higher global prices are expected to motivate farmers to plant more this year after dry conditions linked to the La Nina weather phenomenon hurt yields in the 2010-11 season," Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures said.

"If the weather remains normal, the 2011-12 corn harvest could reach record highs."

But the USDA, whose data set global benchmarks, has already factored in a 4m-tonne rise to 26m tonnes in Argentine output.

'Sowing struggle'


for December was uncvanged% at $7.57 ¼ a bushel in Chicago and down at $8.47 ¾ at bushel in Kansas, offered some support by lingering fears for crops on both sides of the Atlantic.

"Concerns about the quality of the wheat crop in western portions of the European Union continue to complement the supportive story in the US," Benson Quinn's Brian Henry said, referring to the German inundations which had, as of early in the week, left an estimated 20% of the harvest uncut.

"Much of this has already been damaged."

And as for the theme of the dry conditions in the southern US Plains for sowing hard red winter wheat, "the current forecasts indicate that it is going to be a struggle and limited progress is expected at this time", he added.

"Given the tight domestic supplies of quality wheat and increased feed usage, the trade is going to be paying close attention to this issue going forward."

Rising oats

One notable mover upwards, however, was


, which has enjoyed a good week, adding 6% so far for December delivery, including a 0.4% rise to $3.79 ½ a bushel on Friday.

The grain has been helped by Statistics Canada coming in with a relatively modest estimate for Canadian output, at a little under 2.9m tonnes.

This figure was in line with the existing Canada farm ministry and USDA estimates, and belied expectations of a more generous figure, with StatsCan stressing higher wheat output instead.

'Support is vulnerable'

And a key loser was

palm oil,

which dipped 1.1% to 2,960 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur, amid concerns over a revision to Indonesia's export taxes which could make its shipments cheaper.

And that level, a key chart point, on a rising trend line, may not hold, given that the vegetable oil looks weaker on technical factors too, Abah Ofon at Standard Chartered said.

"The continued fall in the 50-week momentum indicator, and an apparent sustained bear flag break down, suggest that trendline support is vulnerable, and we expect a break below 2,960 ringgit at one."


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