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Evening markets: Corn market gives one cheer for further China purchase


Saint Patrick may have been had the power, as legend has it, to rid Ireland of snakes.


But chasing bears from Chicago, well, that did not look a priority for his annual day.


The Bcom ag subindex stood down 0.5% in late deals, with grains doing their bit to ensure a negative close.


There was an exception, in corn, which for May added 0.6% to $5.58 a bushel, returning just $0.07 from matching its seven-year closing high on a spot contract basis, as recorded last week.


That strength reflected yet another Chinese purchase of US corn, this time of 1.22m tonnes, with the rumour mill proving right again.


The purchases takes “total US corn sales to China to 21.1m tonnes” for 2020-21, said Richard Feltes at RJ O’Brien, “or 24m tonnes if one assumes” that half of of the corn booked to ‘unknown’ is in fact China’s.


Ethanol output gain

However, the strength did not spread to later contracts, which in the main closed lower.


The premium of May futures to new crop December futures has risen by one-third this week already to more than $0.80 a bushel.


Sure, the China orders have spurred ideas of tight old crop supplies – a theme which got a boost too from US ethanol production data last week which, at 971,000 barrels a day rose by 33,000 barrels a day – far more than the 8,000 barrels-a-day figure investors had expected.


Furthermore, stocks dipped by more than expected too, by 730,000 barrels to 21.34m barrels.


‘Recharging soil moisture’

But new crop output prospects have received a boost from some increased ideas on US sowings prospects, with Allendale for instance estimating plantings at 92.8m acres, 800,000 acres above the US Department of Agriculture’s initial figure.


And rainy weather is viewed by some as an advantage too, with Benson Quinn Commodities saying that a “five-day wet forecast seen recharging soil moisture ahead of US spring planting season”.


“Rains slated across the US in the coming five-days offer resistance with spring planting around the corner.”


‘Support greater fieldwork’

Meanwhile, drier weather is expected for central parts of Brazil, where rains have been hampering soybean harvesting and sowing of the follow-on safrinha corn crop.


The GFS weather model is showing “rain intensity and coverage declining in Mato Grosso, Goias, and Tocantins after Friday which will help support greater fieldwork and help stop the decline in crop conditions,” said Steve Freed at ADM Investor Services.


And in Argentina, “today’s rain and the additional occasional periods of shower and thunderstorm activity in the next 10 days will continue to reduce crop stress and stop the decline in crop conditions”.


In short, “weather leans negative” for prices, Mr Feltes said.


Soy dips

Chicago soybean figures for May shed 0.4% to $14.17 ¾ a bushel.


Both products were negative this time, with soyoil shedding 0.9% to 54.60 cents a pound for May, undermined in part by a retreat in crude oil prices, but also a tumble in Chinese Dalian prices of the vegetable oil.


As a negative marker too, Oil World flagged that prices of rival sunoil were “declining on account of rising export sales of Russian sun oil and the prospects of increasing Argentine export sales”.


It looks like Russia is easing back on a sunoil export tax idea for the end of this month, a factor which has “increased selling by Russian producers so far this week”.


Chicago soymeal, meanwhile, shed 0.3% to $404.90 a short ton, with the enhanced US ethanol production meaning extra supplies of distillers’ grains (DDGs), a rival high protein feed ingredient thrown off as a byproduct of making the biofuel.


‘Improved dramatically’

Wheat proved the weakest of Chicago’s big three, ending down 1.1% at $6.40 a bushel, again little helped by Russia news, with SovEcon raising by 3.1m tonnes to 79.3m tonnes its forecast for the country’s wheat harvest this year.


“Crop conditions have improved dramatically in the South thanks to mild winter and ample precipitation in the recent week,” the influential Moscow-based analysis group said.


“As a result, an estimate of winterkill in the region has been cut substantially,” SovEcon said, adding that “the region accounts for almost half of the winter wheat area”, and is a key origin for Russia’s wheat exports too.


The group raised too its estimate of Ukraine’s wheat crop, by 800,000 tonnes to 27.8m tonnes.


‘Slowed noticeably’

Cotton eased too, by 0.5% to 86.51 cents a pound in New York for May, in thinning trading volumes.


Indeed, “volumes have slowed noticeably, which is often yet another sign of speculators moving to the sidelines”, said Louis Rose at Rose Commodity Group.


Still, on a positive note, “we think sales and shipments are likely to again prove strong” in US export sales data due on Thursday.


ADM Investor Services reported that “cash traders report some increased sales/price fixations with mills after the recent drop in prices”.


Arabica eases

However, arabica coffee for May fell back 0.7% to 133.55 cents a pound, despite a downbeat forecast from Wolthers Douque, of 50.8m bags (including robusta) for Brazil’s drought-tested coffee crop this year.


Separately, South Africa-based I&M Smith said that “the median of local and international surveys forecast a total Brazil arabica and robusta 2021 crop to be around 52m bags”.


Still, US-based Wolthers Douque was more upbeat than some other commentators on 2022 prospects, seeing it potentially reaching 68m-70m bags as yields benefit from heavy pruning many farmers have undertaken - in essence taking trees out of production this year because of the poor growing conditions, but in the hope of a boost to productivity in 2022.


A weaker real, down 0.8% against the dollar, was also a negative for dollar values of assets in which Brazil is a key player.

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