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Morning markets: grain futures snooze amid after-data calm

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For once, a set of US Department of Agriculture data seems to have gone off without too much in the way of controversy.

OK, there are some lingering questions over the lift in the estimate for the domestic soybean yield that the USDA made in its latest monthly set of world crop estimates, on Monday.

The forecast was raised by 0.4 bushels a hectare, to 41.8 bushels a hectare, rather than downgraded as the market had expected.

"We see downside risks to yield and possibly harvested acres in future reports," Standard Chartered analyst Abah Ofon said, speaking for many observers.

But traders seemed satisfied that estimates still very much work in progress were heading in a readily credible direction.

Chinese go shopping

And that left the markets rather becalmed while the action went on in other markets, more impressed by China's potential shopping spree in Italy.

Italy, one of the eurozone countries around which debt fears are swirling, has reportedly asked China to make hefty purchases of its bonds, a request which appears to be being taken seriously in Beijing.

It has encouraged a sigh of relief on many markets, and brought some unwinding of the "risk-off" trades which have marked recent sessions.

Following the late recovery in Wall Street


overnight, Tokyo stocks ended up 1.0%, and the


stood 0.6% lower against a basket of currencies as of 07:30 GMT (08:30 UK time), improving the competitiveness of dollar-denominated assets.

New York


added 0.9%, touching $89 a barrel earlier, while


gained ground too.

Corn vs wheat

But among agricultural commodities, investors were waiting for the next set of themes to propel crop prices.

It didn't make for exciting viewing. December


filled the vacuum in Chicago by posting a gain of 0.1% to $7.28 a bushel, and that was the most upbeat performance for benchmark contracts in the major grains.

Sure, wheat was actually bearishly served by the USDA data, which raised Canadian and European Union forecasts for harvests and exports at the expense of domestic shipments.

The estimate for domestic wheat stocks at the close of 2011-12 was hiked by 90m bushels, to 781m bushels, although the uplift was mainly in the hard red winter variety traded in Kansas. (Kansas wheat for December shed 0.1% to $8.25 a bushel).

But the estimate for inventories of soft red winter wheat, as traded in Chicago, was left unchanged, at 197m bushels, leaving the contract to focus on a technical anomaly – its discount to



Historically, wheat has traded at a premium in Chicago, a situation reversed frequently this year by the relative tightness of US corn supplies.

Chart signals

Corn itself traded down 1.25 cents to $7.44 ¼ a bushel for December, facing its own technical battle, with Jon Michalscheck at Benson Quinn Commodities noting that its recovery in the last session "sets the market up for a key reversal on the daily chart with a new low being taken out with a new high close".

The answer to the chart riddle will depend on "whether there is enough follow through support" to send corn higher by the end of the session.

Mike Mawdsley at Market 1 added that the low of the last session, of $7.26 ¼ a bushel, "is the benchmark to stay over this week", if December corn is to continue its upward move.

At least the lot has the 20-day moving average, of $7.43 ¾ a bushel, in its favour, overtaken in the last session and now presenting potential resistance to downward moves.

Cold snap

There is also the freeze threat, of course.

"We would note that frost and freezing concerns have been issued for Eastern Dakotas, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan later this week," Mr Mawdsley said.

But there was the question of whether this has now been factored in to corn prices, if potentially not into



"The freeze could do some damage to corn and even more so to the soybean crop if it materialises," Mr Michalscheck said, adding that "one would have thought the soybeans would have managed to come back more into the close of the last session then was seen".

Still, the oilseed remained under a little bit of a cloud from Monday's negative data, easing 0.1% to $13.94 ¾ a bushel.

'Persistent rain'

Elsewhere in the oilseeds complex,

palm oil

fell too, dropping 1.4% to 3,027 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur, where futures got their first chance to react to the US data.

(The US estimates on palm oil itself were virtually unchanged, bar a small uplift to Indian consumption expectations, and a discovery of a few extra stocks of the oilseed.)



, which fell approaching 2% in Chicago on Monday, shed a further 0.2% to 57.28 cents a pound for October delivery.

And in Tokyo,


added 0.4% to 364.60 cents a kilogramme for February delivery, helped by talk of higher prices in Thailand, the top exporter.

Ker Chung Yang, at Phillip Futures, said in a market report: "Prices of Thai unsmoked sheet 3-grade natural rubber may hit 150 baht a kilogramme by the fourth quarter compared with 130 baht kilogramme, Thai Rubber Association president Pongsak Kerdvongbundit said.

"The price rise could be attributed to persistent rain related to a seasonal monsoon."


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