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Morning markets: worsened US crop health keeps futures ahead

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The cut by Standard & Poor's in its rating for Italian debt grabbed the headlines but failed to prompt a large liquidation in risk markets, as of 07:30 GMT (08:30 UK time) anyway.

OK, Tokyo

shares

fell 1.6%, but they were playing catch up after taking a holiday on Monday, and Australian stocks lost 1.0%. But Singapore, Seoul, Shanghai and Taiwan shares showed small gains.

And while the

dollar

strengthened, it was not by much, adding 0.1% against a basket of currencies.

That was not enough to prevent a small rise in dollar-denominated

oil

, which added 0.2% to 109.39 cents a pound for Brent

crude

.

Supply gap

It wasn't enough either to prevent agricultural commodities staging something of a Turnaround Tuesday - reversing some of the losses of the previous session staged by most crops with the notable exception of

corn

.

But corn enjoyed less of a bounce this time, adding 0.6% to $6.96 ¼ a bushel in Chicago for December delivery, even with that talk of Chinese buyers on the prowl.

The China plot thickened on Tuesday with the announcement by Beijing, that an auction of corn from state reserves trailed yesterday would amount to a sizeable 3.7m tonnes.

The statement also acknowledged that the grain was being released to "increase supply and meet market demand before new corn is available" – acknowledging the tight supplies behind Chinese corn prices which have continued to rise despite the announcement of the sell-off.

Dalian corn for November added 0.4% to 2,427 yuan a tonne.

Demand vs harvest pressure

The Chinese announcement could be taken in two ways - potentially bearish short-term, in reducing buyers' need to turn to external markets if bullish on the broader stage in highlighting the country's hunger for the grain.

Such an appetite is a sensitive topic in US markets, given China's status as the second-ranked corn user, and therefore potentially a huge importer of the grain.

Furthermore, as Lynette Tan at Phillip Futures noted, "confirmation of China's impending purchase could lend strength to corn prices, but with an advancing harvest on the way, there could be more downside pressure to corn before continuing on a longer term uptrend".

Whatever, the US Department of Agriculture gave bulls a bit of extra muscle by unveiled a two-point decline to 51% in the proportion of American corn viewed in "good" or "excellent" condition, and appearing to show some damage to last week's frost which ended up being largely disregarded by the market.

'Growing season ends'

For

soybeans

, which were viewed as more susceptible to frost, the decline was of three points, to 53% good or excellent.

And the impact of the cold on rival oilseed

canola

, as well as grains crops, north of the border was highlighted by the Canadian Wheat Board, which noted that temperatures fell as low as minus 8 degrees Celsius in Saskatchewan.

"Widespread frost occurred on the Prairies last week, bringing the 2011 growing season to an end for all but western Alberta," the board said, while adding that, with rainfall low, harvest continued apace, hitting 78% complete, compared with an average of 71% (and 26% last year).

Chicago's November soybean contract added 0.8% to $13.46 a bushel.

Legitimate shift?

The USDA crop progress report helped

wheat

too by highlighting the slow pace of winter wheat sowings, at 14% complete compared with an average of 20% by now, thanks to the dryness in the South.

In Texas, only 8% of the crop was sown, compared with an average of 21%.

"Recent rains have allowed for more favourable planting conditions, but warm temperatures this week may negate some of the benefit," Brian Henry at Benson Quinn Commodities said.

"To this point, there have been very few signs of a legitimate shift in the weather pattern."

'Needs to turn up now'

At Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Luke Matthews issued a reminder of the strong weekly export inspection data for wheat issued yesterday, at 33.3m bushels, double the figure the week before.

"Encouraging for values was a sharp increase in US wheat export inspections last week," he said.

Chicago's December contract stood 0.9% higher at $6.78 ¾ a bushel, reviving none too soon from a negative run, from a technical perspective, according to Mike Mawdsley at Market 1.

"The market needs to turn up now or $6.39 a bushel, the summer low, could come quickly," he said.

He added that prices of soft red winter wheat, as traded in Chicago, "are close to world prices since falling over $1.30 a bushel this month".

Dry fibre

Cotton

too received some help from the USDA report, with a downgrade of 1 point, to 27 points, in the condition of the US crop, also tested by the southern drought.

In Texas, the top cotton-producing state, 65% of the crop is in "poor" or "very poor" health.

New York's December cotton contract recovered from a limit-down close to the last session to stand 0.4% higher at 105.98 cents a pound.

By Agrimoney.com

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