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Morning markets: mixed China factory data set markets theme

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Some of the more important Chinese data for commodity markets came in mixed on Wednesday.

The initial reading on Chinese factory activity for February, as measured by an HSBC survey, showed the sector contracting for a fourth successive month.

But it was at least, with a reading of 49.7 compared with 48.8 in January, shrinking less fast. In the index, figures above 50.0 indicate expansion.

And that inconclusive feel seemed to spread across financial markets, which found movement and direction difficult.



edged a touch higher as of 08:50 GMT, and


a little lower, and


were mixed, rising in Tokyo and Shanghai, but falling in Singapore.

Acreage battle

And that was pretty much the situation on agricultural commodity markets too, although there was enough movement to realise that the tide had reversed on a strong trend of late – buy


, sell





This calculation, particular soybeans vs corn, is crucial as the two crops are competitors in the so-called battle for acres – the fight to gain a place in US farmers' spring sowing plans.

And soybeans have been fighting back of late, after losing some early skirmishes, bringing the ratio of new crop November beans to December corn to 2.24.

"While larger corn production is expected to inflate tight US supplies, the soybean complex is becoming appealing, as the prospect of tightening balance sheet due to lower production and increased export demand offers better upside price potential," Kim Rugel at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

Soybeans had been "able to divorce themselves from weaker corn and wheat complex".

'Top soil moisture improving'

Nonetheless, traders reassessed that tricky balance on Wednesday, giving soybeans what selling pressure there was, to send Chicago's March contract down 0.2% to $12.68 ¾ a bushel.

The new crop November lot fell 0.2% to $12.59 ¼ a bushel.

Meanwhile, March corn managed to hold at $6.29 ½ a bushel, and add 0.2% to $5.65 a bushel for December.

Wheat eased, a touch, by 0.25 cents to $6.32 ¾ a bushel for March, also feeling some pressure from the dry weather in the northern US and Canada which has boded ill for sowings, as well as in the dryness in the southern Plains too.

Weekly US Department of Agriculture condition data showed the proportion of Texas hard red winter wheat rated in "good" condition rising by three points, while that in "poor" and "very poor" categories fell in two points each.

"The top soil moisture index continues to show improvement and is about on par with last year," Mark Welch at Texas A&M University said.

'Glut of wheat'

Further north, "beneficial snow is expected in the US northern plains over the coming fortnight, boosting soil moisture ahead of the upcoming spring planting period", Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said.

He also pointed to a negative impact on prices from Australian inventory data showing "there is a glut of wheat" in the country, with stocks in the bulk handling system reaching a record 25.6m tonnes last month, up 16% year on year.

"The record supplies will continue to pressure domestic wheat prices, whilst also underwriting Australian wheat exports for the next 18 months," Mr Mathews said.

Meanwhile, in Russia, the Russian Grains Union undermined any hopes that bulls may have of a wheat export slowdown persisting by forecasting that shipments of the grain will reach 22m tonnes in 2011-12, up from about 18m tonnes so far in the season.

Resistance level

Soft commodities were a little becalmed too, with New York


for March easing 0.1% to 91.17 cents a pound, and raw


for May down 0.1% at 24.45 cents a pound.

"Resistance for the May contract is seen at the 200-day moving average which is sitting at 24.57 cents a pound," Mr Mathews noted, referring to a key chart point.

Furthermore, while thoughts that Indonesia may issue new import permits have supported upward pressure, "Thai price premiums continue to fall, clouding the bullish picture".

'Tighter supplies'

Staying in Asia, it was Kuala Lumpur

palm oil

which proved one of the most decisive movers, adding 0.5% to 3,283 ringgit a tonne for the benchmark May lot, which earlier hit an eight-month high of 3,294 ringgit a tonne.

Ker Chung Yang at Phillip Futures noted "improving demand prospects at a time when traders worry that dry weather in South America could harm yields and reduce soybean output", the source of rival vegetable oil



Indeed, on Tuesday, Oil World said that vegetable oil markets would "become tighter, mainly as a result of recent additional soybean crop losses in South America and smaller-than-expected world production and export supplies of soyoil".

"This will spill over to palm oil, pulling up prices in coming months, despite the seasonal recovery of palm oil production," starting from next month, the analysis group said.

Still, Chicago soyoil for March was 0.2% lower at 53.96 cents a pound.


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