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Morning markets: wheat regains premium, amid crop retreat

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, even in closing the last session at its lowest level of the month, and below corn for the first time in 15 years, bequeathed bulls one ray of light.

That was that, thanks to some late revival, the grain ended, just, above its 20-day moving average in both Chicago and Kansas, providing hope that at least that key technical pointer might hold.

(Wheat has already dropped through a series of other chart support levels, for example the nine and 50-day moving average lines.)

That helped the grain, at 07:20 GMT (08:20 UK time) at least, avoid the worst of the weakness in many risk assets on Thursday, with Japanese nuclear fears still of broad concern, and Chinese concerns near the top of the agenda too.

China is expected on Friday to reveal consumer inflation at a 32-year high, raising the prospect of further measures to slow the economy. Such expectations are particularly closely monitored in commodity markets, given China's status as a huge importer of raw materials.

Southern hemisphere pressure


dipped more than 1% in Shanghai, and many of the agricultural commodities too that China buys in quantity suffered.


, of which China is the top importer, fell 0.6% to $13.25 ½ a bushel in Chicago for May delivery.

In New York,


, of which China is also the biggest buyer, slid 0.7% to 196.00 cents a pound for May and 1.1% to 178.72 cents a pound for the better-traded July lot, which closed below its 50 day line last night, and, according to Mike Mawdsley at Market 1, for the first time since November.

Besides this technical downer, Australia & New Zealand Bank noted "price pressure from cotton sales in the southern hemisphere as Australia, Brazil and Argentina begin marketing cotton".

Furthermore, Monsanto, which earlier in the month reported bumper sales of cotton seed, questioned US Department of Agriculture figures showing lower-than-expected American sowings of the fibre this spring, saying high prices since officials polled farmers may have eked out extra acres.

New York's new crop December cotton lot fell 1.2% to 133.10 cents a pound.

Rain or no rain?

But wheat held just onto positive ground, up 0.25 cents at $7.53 a bushel in Chicago for May, despite the rumours of an imminent return by Russia to exports, and of rain for parched hard red winter areas.

Besides the technical help, another factor in the grain's favour was a degree of doubt over how much rain will actually hit the areas of west Kansas, north Texas and so on which need rain most.

Richard Feltes, at RJ O'Brien, for instance noted that "the south western half of the Plains remains likely to stay unfavourably dry" in the one-to-five day forecast.

And, as Jerry Gidel at North America Risk Management Services, said, a further spell without rain "could be the death knell" for dry wheat crops "if the plant tries to force maturity and runs out moisture".

'Tired and struggling'


provided no prop, falling 0.5% to $7.52 a bushel for May delivery –indeed back into a discount against wheat - amid some evidence of a "weaker tone" in US cash markets, and investor fatigue, according to Jon Michalscheck at Benson Quinn Commodities.

"The market has been talking up the potential for tight old crop inventories, along with potential tightness into the 2011-12 crop year since January of this year, and may have run its course until the crop has been planted or at least we get the May options behind us next week," he said.

"Technically, the complex still acts as if it's tired and struggling to hold current values."

Data later

Progress later on may be dictated by US weekly export sales data, which are seen as particularly intriguing this time as they will cover the week after March 31, when the USDA's revelation of low American inventories sent prices soaring.

Have higher prices rationed demand?

Analysts expect corn export sales to come in at 550,000-900,000 tonnes, at least 90,000 tonnes better than last week, with wheat trade at 400,000-700,000 tonnes, down on last week's week 722,900 tonnes.

Soybean sales are set for an improvement, to 200,000-350,000 tonnes, from the previous 190,300 tonnes.


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