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Morning markets: wheat presses home its advantage over corn

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Quiz time. When was the last time the spot

wheat

contract was worth $0.30 a bushel more than spot

corn

in Chicago?

Actually, Agrimoney.com isn't quite sure, but it has been a while since wheat regained a premium even within sight of the levels the market is historically used to.

But such a gap was back in early deals on Friday, amid expectations that US supplies of wheat will prove, from reports due later, to be considerably tighter than the market is expecting.

For one, analysts believe that the US Department of Agriculture will, in a wheat production report, cut its estimate of overall production, by some 30m bushels to 2.05m bushels.

The expectation reflects in the main weaker expectations for output of hard red spring wheat (the type traded in Minneapolis), for which a 24m-bushel cut, to 498m bushels, is expected thanks to reports of weaker yields.

"Apparently, some in the trade believe the hard red spring wheat production figure is going to come in closer to 400m bushels," Brian Henry, at Minneapolis-based Benson Quinn Commodities, said.

'Insufficient rain'

Then there are the concerns over dryness making farmers reluctant to sow winter grains in the southern US and parts of Europe and the former Soviet Union, let alone Argentina.

"World wheat weather remains worrisome," Luke Mathews at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said, even if "Australian grain production prospects have improved because of heavy, widespread rain of the past few days".

Agritel's Kiev office noted that while Ukraine had received some rain, amounts were "insufficient rains in the most productive regions to balance drought that impacted winter sowing".

Short covering?

On top of that was, in Chicago, a technical consideration, with, as Mr Henry noted, "a reluctance to sell Chicago futures based on the existing fund position". Ie, speculators already have a historically elevated net short position in wheat, latest regulatory data showed, meaning that they may be reluctant to sell-down further.

Indeed, with it being the end of the quarter - and a positive one for wheat too despite the September sell-off, putting them on track for their first quarterly gain this year – they may be tempted to close positions.

In wheat, that implies covering shorts and adding upward pressure to futures.

Corn vs wheat

Furthermore, many analysts also believe that the USDA data, which also include a stocks report, will show significant switching of corn to wheat, prompted by the unusual strength in corn prices relative to their grain peer.

There have been some reports of some corn ethanol capacity, such as that owned by The Andersons, trying wheat.

But in the main, the substitution is believed to have been a livestock feeding thing, and mainly involving soft red winter wheat, the type traded in Chicago, which is cheaper than the higher protein varieties, and relatively abundant too.

'

Pathetic performance'

In fact, it was Chicago wheat that did best as of 07:20 GMT (08:20 UK time), adding 0.6% to $6.58 a bushel for December delivery.

Minneapolis wheat for December added a modest 0.2%, getting to $8.97 a bushel, on top of its 4% gains of the last session. That said, the lot popped its head above $9 a bushel earlier on for the first time in two weeks.

Kansas hard red winter wheat was up 0.7% at $7.45 a bushel for December.

'Will funds come back?'

Still, all were doing far better than corn, which slid 0.7% to $6.28 a bushel, depressed by the negative side of the demand idea of wheat-for-corn substitution.

"Buy wheat/sell corn is the game now," Mike Mawdsley at broker Market 1 said, terming "pathetic" corn's performance in the last session, when it was far outpaced by wheat.

"Will the funds ever come back again?"

Technically, the grain has furthermore blotted its copybook by falling decisively below its 200-day moving average.

'Hard to reconcile'

Soybeans too managed to extend gains of the last session, adding 0.4% to $12.34 ½ a bushel for November delivery, still feeling the glow of upbeat weekly US export data, as released on Thursday.

But

cotton

, which had a similar fillip, struggled to build on the last session's rally, easing 0.4% to 101.81 cents a pound.

And, also in soft commodities, Australia & New Zealand Bank had a caution for investors believing New York raw

sugar

may build on its 6% gains of the last session.

The rally is "hard to reconcile" given wires "devoid of any major positive news", the bank said.

"In fact it's been the opposite over the last week. Fundamental news points to two key swinging countries for the sugar trade over the last few years - India and Russia - moving to net exporters in 2011-12."

Additionally, analyst Sucres et Denrees forecast a world sugar production surplus of 9.8m tonnes in 2011-12, a figure far bigger than most other observers have been coming up with of late.

By Agrimoney.com

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