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Morning markets: wheat shakes off some pre-Wasde nerves

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The revival in financial markets, hampered by the latest twist in the Greek debt saga, found another hurdle on Thursday, when data showed Chinese inflation rising for the first time in six months.

China's consumer price index rose from 4.1% in December to 4.5% last month, beating market expectations too.

The figure provoked some concerns that the world's second largest economy might not, after all, be able to progress with the easier monetary policy that had appeared on the cards, and which, in boosting economic activity, should lead to a greater appetite for raw materials.


futures felt a little pressure, as did


on Asian stockmarkets, falling 0.2% in Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney.

'Unwilling to take risks'

That had some bearish on agricultural commodity markets, fostering for instance a decline of 1.7% to 320.30 yen a kilogramme in


prices in Tokyo, for the benchmark July contract.

The commodity, as used chiefly in the auto industry, is particularly attuned to macroeconomic concerns, although it should overall be in a seasonally firmer period, with top producer Thailand heading for its wintering season, when latex supplies falter.

However, other crops were reluctant to move so far, in either direction, ahead of the US Department of Agriculture's February Wasde crop supply and demand report, due later, a key event of the farm commodities month.

"Traders are unwilling to take risks ahead of the report, as recent reports have been highly unpredictable," Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures in Singapore said.

Downgrades expected

The big theme on the agenda this time is how much the USDA downgrades South American crops to account for dryness which has prompted a series of cuts to private estimates.

Most lately, on Wednesday, Agroconsult trimmed its forecast for Brazil's


crop by 3% to 71m tonnes.

The Wasde is expected, for Brazil, to peg the


crop at 59.8m tonnes, a cut of 1.2m tonnes on the last number, and for soybeans at 71.7m tonnes, a 2.3m-tonne downgrade, according to a Dow Jones poll of analysts.

For Argentina, the corn number is expected to be cut 3.5m tonnes to 22.5m tonnes, and the soybean number by 2.0m tonnes to 48.5m tonnes

Priced in?

And the next issue is how smaller South American cops play on the world balance sheet, in potentially switching buyers to US exports instead, or curbing demand altogether.

"Many are expecting the government will lower South America production and hike US exports," Ms Tan said.

Still, "that news may already be priced into the market. Traders say it may take a significant surprise to push the market out of its recent trading range".

At Benson Quinn Commodities, Brian Henry said: "Once-promising soybean crops in South America have been damaged to a degree. However, the marketplace traded the dry conditions as they occurred."

'Basis is soft'

Certainly, investors weren't willing to stick out their necks too far as of 08:40 GMT, taking Chicago corn up all of 0.25 cents at $6.42 ¾ a bushel, while edging soybeans 0.2% higher to $12.33 ¾ a bushel.

For soybeans, an additional reason not to get too excited is the weakening cash market, compared with futures, potential evidence that even a weakened South American crop represents a threat to US exports.

"Rail basis to the Pacific North West is soft as global demand… is waning," Mr Henry said.

"This is likely the result of new Brazilian soybean production making it to port and/or Chinese demand being satisfied for the time being."

Wheat purchases

The one crop doing better was


, for which the Wasde is likely to prove less important, with both southern and northern hemisphere crops in the barn, but where other signs are supportive.

US wheat has, with Black Sea supplies sidelined by weather delays to transport, become a source of available supplies, and competitively priced ones.

"Demand increases for US wheat on the export scene as the Black Sea faces logistical constraints linked to cold temperatures," Agritel said.

And this when setbacks to crops for 2012 harvest are beginning to unnerve buyers. Iraq, where dryness is a threat, emerged overnight as a buyer of 100,000 tonnes of wheat, albeit from Australia.

Spain, which USDA attaches in Madrid revealed overnight has a moisture deficit too, is believed to have bought 200,000 tonnes from America.

In North Africa, while Algeria has received some much-needed rain, on the edges of the system bringing cold and some storms to Europe and the Soviet Union, Morocco, another major importer, has not.

Chicago wheat for March added 0.4% to $6.63 ½ a bushel.

Data later

US weekly export data later will give a sign of the health of American trade, although it will likely be largely overshadowed by the Wasde.

For wheat, exports at 450,000-650,000 tonnes, in line with the previous week's 554,000 tonnes, are expected.

For corn too an in-line result is forecast, at 800,000-1.15m tonnes. But for soybeans, traders are expecting an improvement from the 368,000 tonnes last time to 550,000-700,000 tonnes.


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