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Morning markets: weather extremes keep grains on front foot

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So will Tuesday prove one of the Turnaround ones celebrated in Chicago lore, bringing grains back to earth?

There were plenty of excuses around for investors to turn cautious, with the markets still reeling from that revision by Standard & Poor's to its credit outlook for the US, to "negative", signalling a downgrade could be in the pipeline if the country does not improve its finances.

And sovereign debt problems have (re)taken a high profile in Europe too, with rumours of a Greek debt restructuring, and of potential problems working out a bailout for Portugal, now that an anti-euro party has gained more powers in Finnish general elections.

It was little wonder that the round of falls on world share markets continued, with the Nikkei closing down 1.2%, and Shanghai shares down 1.9%.

No eat, no like

Certainly, some crops felt selling pressure – notably two that are used solely for non-food purposes, and so generally deemed more vulnerable to economic concerns than the edible commodities which consumers have less choice over buying.


dipped 3.5% to 410.20 yen a kilogramme in Tokyo, for the benchmark September contract – a sixth successive drop, during which it has lost nearly 14%.

At Phillip Futures in Singapore, Kerr Chung Yang also noted Sunday's "fresh reserve requirement ratio hike in China that prompted speculation demand will slow in the world's largest rubber consumer and importer".

The same goes for


too, which fell 2.0% to 192.58 cents in New York for May delivery as of 07:40 GMT (08:40 UK time), following a 2.1% dip in on the Zhengzhou's benchmark November lot, and despite some problems that rain is providing for the Australian harvest.

At least new crop US cotton gained some help from a slow pace of sowings, estimated in data overnight at 9% so far, hampered by dryness in Texas, compared with an average of 12% by now.

Losses in New York's December lot were limited to 1.3%, taking it to 128.98 cents a pound.

Worse and worse

However, grains maintained upward progress, notably


, spurred by the bipolar US weather which is sending too much rain for areas where farmers are attempting spring sowings, and too little to hard red winter wheat districts, where crops need moisture.

The US Department of Agriculture crop progress data out last night showed the condition of the hard red winter variety (as traded in Kansas) stable at 36% in "good" or "excellent" categories – compared with 69% a year ago.

The proportion rated "poor" or "very poor" rose two points to 38%.

Kansas's May wheat contract added 0.5% to $9.00 ¼ a bushel.

Poor rate of sowings

Meanwhile, more rain is forecast for more northerly areas which need dryness to allow farmers on to fields.

"Storms developing in the central plains continue to track across north eastern Colorado, Nebraska and northern and eastern Kansas," Dave Lehl at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

(He added that the dry "panhandle regions of Texas and Oklahoma, as well as south western Kansas and south eastern Colorado continue to call for dry forecasts".)

Indeed, just 5% of US spring wheat (as traded in Minneapolis) was sown, compared with 18% a year ago.

Minneapolis's May lot added 0.6% to $9.19 ¼ a bushel.

'Demand destruction'

In Chicago, which trades the soft red winter wheat which is in better health, the May lot lagged a touch, up 0.4% at $7.78 a bushel.

Still, that was enough to reinflate more of a premium over


, which gained 0.3% to $7.54 a bushel for May, helped by its own planting difficulties, with 7% of the US crop seeded, below market forecasts and the 16% a year ago.

Chicago's new crop December corn lot continued to outperform, adding 0.5% to $6.71 ¼ a bushel.

On the downside, Commonwealth Bank of Australia's Luke Mathews highlighted US export inspection data released on Monday which fell 21% week on week, and 20% year on year, to 32.2m bushels.

"This is, perhaps, a sign of demand destruction," he said.

Oilseed slippage

Mr Mathews was more outspoken on


, for which US export inspections fell 36% week on week, and 154% year on year, to 14.2m bushels, "signalling that not only are exports seasonally declining, but they are declining at a faster pace than normal".

With South American hopes still on the up, and Chinese demand for the oilseed apparently taking a breather, Chicago's May soybean lot fell 0.5% to $13.38 ¼ a bushel.

Nor could new crop November soybeans, competing with corn for US acres, keep up the grain, falling 0.3% to $13.45 ¼ a bushel.

But then, at this rate, weather, rather than prices, may do the job of forcing fewer US farmers to abandon the oilseed in favour of corn, and its higher margins. Soybeans, after all, are later sown.


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