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Morning markets: soft dollar helps crops keep bears at bay

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There was this technical idea which gained prominence about 10 days ago that

corn

futures, having traded in a tight range for a month, were about to "break out" one way or the other. That is to spike higher, or lower.

The chart after Thursday's sell-off, termed a "bloodbath" by some observers including Mike Mawdsley at Market 1, would suggest the breakout was going to be of a downward nature, with Chicago's December lot closing at its lowest in a month.

But the lot was in no hurry to lose further ground in early deals on Friday, adding 0.25 to $6.14 ¾ a bushel as of 08:45 GMT.

And it was the weakest of Chicago's big three crops.

China property

fears…

Furthermore, the rebound, weak as it was, came despite the spread of financial worries to, horror of horrors, China, where official data showed prices of newly-built homes falling in half of cities surveyed.

A collapse in the Chinese housing market has been a persistent, but so far unrealised fear for world markets, and the data sent

shares

in Chinese property groups and banks lower, contributing to a decline in Asian stocks markets.

Tokyo's Nikkei index ended down 1.2%, Seoul shares down 2.0% and Sydney stocks down 1.4%, with Shanghai and Singapore shares down 1.9% in late deals.

European stock markets opened down 0.8% or so, while London

copper

eased 0.2%.

Dollar weakens

But many commodities managed to take strength from weakening

dollar

, which dipped 0.3% against a basket of currencies, sapped by a sell-off against the yen, after passing a key technical marker, and buying in the euro, if only the kind of buying coming as investors took profits on short positions.

A softer dollar makes dollar-denominated assets, such as US grain, more affordable to foreign buyers, a factor which is especially pertinent given the fears for US exports at the heart of Thursday's sell-off.

Oil

edged 0.2% higher, both for West Texas Intermediate and Brent crude.

And there seemed to be something in commodities' rebound too of the "profit-taking on short positions ahead of the weekend".

In

wheat

, for instance, Brian Henry at Benson Quinn Commodities said that "Chicago and Kansas futures are quickly approaching oversold conditions, which could trigger some technical short covering".

'Little too dry'

Whether fundamentals were involved, there was some bullish news around, such as South Korean feed group Nonghyup Feed returning to the market for up to 180,000 tonnes of corn and 100,000 tonnes of feed wheat, a sign of demand at lower levels.

And Taiwan, which on Thursday disappointed Chicago investors by buying Brazilian soybeans, on Friday bought 35,100 tonnes of US wheat at tender.

Then there is the turn dry in South American weather, which rings ominous given the renewed La Nina weather pattern, which tends to make rain uncomfortably scarce in, notably, Argentina.

"Looks a little too dry in the Ukraine," Mr Mawdsley reminded, something of an understatement given that one third of the crop is in trouble, on some estimates.

'Too high a price'

Still, David Sheppard at Gleadell, the UK grain merchant spoke for many in saying that, "the dryness in the Ukraine and parts of the US are potential worries, but it would take a major crop or weather problem to develop to change the current bearish scenario".

And if reviving sentiment of demand for US crops means taking prices truly nearer to international competitiveness, more discounting is needed.

"Unfortunately for the few bulls that are left in these markets, wheat and corn finished Thursday at too high a price compared to the global market," Mr Henry said.

At Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Luke Mathews said: "Extremely poor international demand for US corn remains the key drag on prices, with Black Sea corn outcompeting on price."

Nonetheless, Chicago wheat for December gained enough support totally 0.8% to $5.97 a bushel, with soybeans for January added 0.6% to $11.75 ½ a bushel.

Palm springs

Elsewhere in the oilseeds complex,

palm oil

was in investors' good books, as it has continued to be of late on fears for a La Nina-fuelled production slowdown in Indonesia and Malaysia ahead, and despite a caution from influential analyst James Fry.

Mr Fry warned that rising oil supplies may depress Brent crude to $79 a barrel by June, taking palm oil back towards $850 a tonne, or below 2,700 ringgit a tonne.

Crude is a key indicator for palm oil, much of which is used to make biodiesel.

Still, Kuala Lumpur palm oil stood 1.4% higher at 3,254 ringgit a tonne, and earlier set a fresh five-month high of 3,270 ringgit a tonne.

Fibre rebounds

New York

cotton

rebounded too, as investors viewed limit down closes to the last session an overreaction, given a second week of bumper US cotton exports, thanks to Chinese buying.

"Total [US export] commitments to China are back above last year's pace," Paul Deane at Australia & New Zealand Bank said.

CBA's Luke Mathews said: "Total sales for the past four weeks are now running 15% above last year's level."

OK, a 400,000-tonne downgrade on Thursday by Cotlook to its estimate for world cotton demand in 2011-12, and a 20% rise in the inventory forecast, weighed, implying virtually no annual growth in consumption.

But December cotton recovered 0.3% to 99.75 cents a pound, with the March lot up 0.7% at 97.11 cents a pound.

By Agrimoney.com

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