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Morning markets: huge Aussie wheat crop weighs on grains

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No Turnaround Tuesday this time.

That Standard & Poor's downgrade, which prompted a weak close to Chicago's grains market in the last session, had a second bite of the cherry.

If the weak close to the last session was about reports that S&P was about to put a swathe of eurozone countries on "creditwatch negative", meaning they are ripe for a downgrade, this session allowed investors to react to what the ratings agency actually said.

And that was warnings such as: "Systemic stresses in the eurozone have risen in recent weeks to the extent that they now put downward pressure on the credit standing of the eurozone as a whole."

Another was: "It is our opinion that the lack of progress the European policymakers have so far made in controlling the spread of the financial crisis may reflect structural weaknesses in the decision-making process within the eurozone and European Union."


Actually, investors could argue that such comments could have been made at just about any time this year.

Still, they were not taking any chances, sending


down 1.0% in Seoul and Sydney, and 1.4% in Tokyo.



eased 0.5%, and London


1.5%, while the


added 0.4% as of 08:15 GMT.

It was classic risk-off stuff.

Huge crop

And there were some negative fundamental events to factor in too. Notably a huge upgrade, to 28.3m tonnes, in Australia's forecast for its ongoing



"Generally favourable winter and spring growing conditions are expected to lead to a record 2011-12 national winter crop," Abares, the Australian crop bureau, said.

Sure, much of it will be of poor quality, with Abares noting "untimely heavy rain, which has delayed harvest and affected grain quality in some regions".

But it nonetheless means more competition on export markets from the southern hemisphere's top shipper. And that is an issue for



"The international market is closely watching the current grain quality downgrades occurring in Australia, with many South East Asian buyers expected to opt for Australian feed wheat rather than US corn in 2012," Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said.

'Still in a downtrend'

And this when there was already some doubt at the, many, ideas expressed over the last couple of weeks that wheat prices had reached some kind of floor.

Darrel Good, at the University of Illinois, added to the more optimistic camp, saying that "after the sharp decline this year, wheat prices look to be more stable in 2012".

But, at Benson Quinn Commodities, Brian Henry said that "one must proceed with the idea that wheat is still in a downtrend due to weak technicals and ample global and domestic supply.

"The fundamentally bearish aspects of the wheat continue to provide plenty of resistance to wheat markets that continue to border on being oversold," even if the latter means investors with short positions "having to guard against a short-covering rally".

'Dryness needs to be watched'

Chicago soft red winter wheat for March tumbled 1.4% to $6.03 a bushel, with its Kansas hard red winter peer doing little better, down 1.0% at $6.65 ½ a bushel.

Chicago corn for March dropped 0.9% to $5.86 a bushel.

And, yet again, it was left to


to carry the flag for bulls, adding all of 0.1% to $11.27 a bushel for January, helped by concerns over South American weather.

"The current dryness in Mato Grasso and Rio Grande needs to be watched given the current building La Nina conditions in the Pacific," Jerry Gidel at North America Risk Management Services said.

Not, of course, that ideas of weather problems in the region are universally accepted, with Ker Chung Yang at Phillip Futures saying that "generally fair conditions are expected in most areas of Argentina and Brazil over the near term".

Nor did firmness extend throughout the oilseeds complex, with benchmark palm oil for February dropping 0.6% to 3,103 ringgit a tonne in Kuala Lumpur as concerns for the eurozone downgrade trumped Malaysia's own weather issues of too much rain.

Tender results

As for what happens later on, bar any further downgrades, and the possibility that Fitch or Moody's consider it their duty to come up with something even more dastardly than S&P, the day should bring wheat tender results from Egypt.

The results of these will give an idea of the state of the physical wheat market. Not that the US is expected, to show up for the Egyptian tender, with its supplies being undercut by those from the Black and, increasingly, Argentina.

"Egypt tendered for wheat overnight, which could be a measuring stick for the competitiveness of US supplies, but frankly I doubt it," Mr Henry said.


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