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Morning markets: grains edge higher in run-up to key report

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Left a bit, right a bit.

Grain investors continued to adjust their aim heading towards Monday's key event – the US Department of Agriculture's monthly Wasde report on world crop supply and demand – and this time that meant giving futures a nudge upwards.

To be sure there were some external factors to consider, such as the reaction to President Barack Obama's speech late on Thursday outlining $450bn plans to create more US jobs.

(The reaction was actually pretty muted, with and

oil

and the

dollar

near unchanged in early deals.)

There was some potentially positive news on Chinese inflation, which slowed to 6.2% in August from a three-year high of 6.5% in July, reducing the risk of further tightening in monetary policy, and inherent threat to appetite for raw materials from the top buyer of crops such as cotton and soybeans.

Question of size

But grain markets' main focus was the Wasde, and in particular what yield number the USDA will put on the domestic

corn

crop, and what that means for inventories ahead.

"Everyone knows the crop is smaller" than the 153.0 bushels per acre the USDA put it at last month, Mike Mawdsley at broker Market 1 said.

"But the question is how much smaller? With some [private estimates] near 151 bushels an acre down to 143 bushels an acre for corn, there is plenty of wiggle room for the USDA to work in."

Harvest reports

To give an idea of the importance of the debate, it was even raging in the UK, where grain merchant Gleadell took a glass-half-empty approach, saying that "a figure of 150 bushels an acre is already in the market and confirmation could actually result in a 'buy the rumour sell the fact' scenario".

However, at Barclays Capital in London, analysts Sudakshina Unnikrishnan saw the bright side, saying that "corn and soybean fundamentals remain positive".

"We anticipate Monday's Wasde report to reflect lower US yields and tighter supplies, which is likely to underpin these markets despite the vagaries of macro-economic sentiment."

Sure, harvest reports are beginning to come in from more important Midwest areas, but these are not yet conclusive (besides being at risk of spin by investors to suit their books).

"I heard some yields in western Iowa at 170-180 bushels an acre, the same as last year," Mr Mawdsley said, in what would be a bearish outcome if spread nationwide.

However in Champaign, Illinois yields had reportedly come in at "130-135 bushels an acre, much less than last year".

Chart factors

And there were some strong technical forces at work too.

In corn, "the December contract has managed to push down though its 10, 20, and 30-day moving averages which will leave a negative bias", Jon Michalscheck at Benson Quinn Commodities noted.

"Bears will be keying in on the 40-day as the next objective at $7.14 ½ a bushel, while the bulls will be attempting to at least get back over the 20-day to end the week on a positive note."

Bulls had got most of the way back to the 20-day moving average, at $7.41 a bushel, as of 07:20 GMT (08:20 UK time), when the December lot stood at $7.38 ¼ a bushel, up 0.6%.

More export competition...

For

wheat

, a key pointer for Chicago's December contract was to stay above the 50-day moving average, at $7.34 a bushel.

The lot was managing with room to spare, adding 0.4% to $7.41 a bushel, with bears unwilling to push too far (yet) despite pressure from a firm pace to the North American spring wheat harvest, and India's return to exporting the grain.

"US wheat already faces stiff competition on the export market as prices for supplies from the Black Sea region are cheaper than US offerings," Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures said.

Still, she added that "today, we could see investors closing positions" in wheat ahead of the Wasde, a factor which, given large numbers of short bets, could be supportive.

Soybeans

for November added 0.7% to $14.28 ¼ a bushel, still feeling some glow from the estimate by Chinatex that China will import 58m tonnes, and potentially 60m tonnes, of the oilseed in 2011-12, compared with a USDA estimate of 56.5m tonnes.

'Floor for prices'

Still, China proved less able to boost

cotton

on Friday, despite the country's launch of temporary cotton reserve, which will buy the fibre at 19,800 yuan ($3,100) a tonne, or about 105 cents a pound.

"The firing up of that programme should provide a floor for prices whilst this programme is in operation," Paul Deane at Australia & New Zealand Bank said.

But, after gains of 7% in three sessions, helped also by fears for more storm damage to US crops and flood damage in Pakistan, and with the uncertainty of Wasde estimates ahead investors opted to take a few profits.

New York's December contract eased 0.4% to 113.21 cents a pound.

By Agrimoney.com

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