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AM markets: new hurricane fears blow cotton futures higher, 06.10.17

Is Mother Nature long on cotton?

It is worth asking, as yet another hurricane threat emerges in the Caribbean, and which is viewed currently as heading for the US cotton belt, which has already sustained damage from Harvey and Irma, albeit not enough to dent significantly ideas of a large harvest.

At the moment, the latest storm is just a tropical depression, tropical depression 16 in fact, off the east coast of Nicaragua.

But it is "forecast to become a tropical storm later today", the US National Hurricane Center said, wit the event expected to be named Nate.

The centre added that "flooding rains [are] expected over portions of Central America" and plotting a path for the storm which would see landfall in Louisiana, with winds of 74-100mph, before travelling north east through Georgia.

'Here we go again…'

Tobin Gorey at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said that "heavy rainfall is the last thing that… crops need right now" in parts of the cotton belt, with bolls open in many areas, a particularly sensitive developmental phase.

"And there is still plenty of unharvested cotton in the region too."

At McCleskey Cotton, Ron Lee said: "Here we go again, and this time it could really hurt.

"The hurricane season that never seems to end is busy again in the Atlantic Basin, with soon-to-be Tropical Storm Nate barrelling straight for the Gulf of Mexico with little wind shear and very warm temperatures.

'The kicker'

And Nate is not the US cotton sector's only weather worry.

"Not only does the Mid-South and/or South East now have another tropical system to deal with, the large west Texas crop is continuing to deal with less-than-desirable October weather," Mr Lee said.

"Recent cold, rainy weather has been unwanted and slow to leave."

And as an extra nugget in bulls' favour, Mr Lee flagged the 98 contracts, or 9,800 bales "to be dealt with" in New York's October cotton contract, in its physical delivery period pre-expiry.

"The kicker is there is only 4,200 bales of certificated stocks to be delivered. Somebody wants to take this small amount of cotton, yet as of now, nobody has it to send them."

Mr Lee addd that "while this will likely be resolved internally, it tells me you don't want to be short December with a late crop in all probability".

'Demand is finding strength'

Cotton futures for December, the best-traded contract, added 0.8% to 69.32 cents a pound in New York as of 09:40 UK time (03:40 Chicago time), crossing back above their 20-day moving average, and taking to 2.7% their gains over two sessions.

And gains were the order of early deals in Chicago too, where corn for December added 0.4% to $3.49 ¾ a bushel, looking for its first winning session in four.

Midwest rains are providing some help, in slowing harvest, and the wave of supplies to market, while boosting ideas of higher river levels and a return to normal by barge traffic too, so crop can get to port.

CHS Hedging noted that on Wednesday "cash corn bids were steady to higher as barge freight rates decline.

"Demand in the Gulf is also finding strength from the receding barge freight rates," while underlining that rains have "also helped to improve basis on the prospect of delayed harvest".

In fact, "rain in parts of the eastern Corn Belt has harvest at a temporary standstill", and are "expected to carry through Monday", CHS Hedging added.

"The western Corn Belt is also wet with more rain on the way for the Dakotas, Minnesota and northern Iowa through Saturday."

'Been down so long…'

Meanwhile, (past) dryness is growing as an issue in the former Soviet Union, where for once yield expectations are being downgraded, for corn.

"From both sides of the border between Ukraine and Russia, echoes are suggesting that corn production could be lower this year," Agritel said, noting that in Russia Ikar has cut by 1.5m tonnes to 13.9m tonnes its forecast for the country's corn harvest.

"In Ukraine, first cuts in the centre of the country, the main region of production, are showing yields lower by 20-25% compared to last year," Agritel added.

Corn gained some chart appeal too, with Benson Quinn Commodities saying that that "technical indicators are turning a tad bit friendly for corn", even if it was "just a 'been down so long, looks like up to me' thing".

'Yields starting to drop off'

Soybeans, meanwhile, added 0.5% to $9.63 a bushel for November delivery, helped by some of the same factors as corn, such as harvest slowdown, but with some other dynamics noted too.

Benson Quinn Commodities noted that "rumours are floating around that yields in the later-planted beans in the east are starting to drop off, after finding better than expected yields in the first 20-30% of harvest".

If this talk gains traction, it could be a bit of a game changer, given the prevailing wind of upgrades in estimates for US soybean (and corn) yields, with the likes of Michael Cordonnier, INTL FCStone and Lanworth among upward revisers this week.

'Rumours of Chinese business'

Furthermore, Benson Quinn noted "rumours of Chinese bean business", which would be another boost for bulls, with China, the top importer, actually amid its mid-Autumn Festival, and with markets not expected to reopen until Monday.

"They do need to move out coverage but with most traders out on holiday the rest of the week, those thoughts may be premature," the broker added.

Still, more on the US export performance will be known later, with US Department of Agriculture data expected to show export sales of the oilseed last week at 1.0m-1.3m tonnes.

For corn, the figure is expected at 500,000-700,000 tonnes, which while hardly luxuriant would be an improvement on the 320,242 tonnes the week before.

'Conditions are slightly improving'

For wheat, US export sales last week are expected at 300,000-500,000 tonnes, roughly in line with the 435,599 tonnes last time.

Weather is also a factor in wheat markets too – providing ammunition for both bulls and bears.

On the bearish side, Australian rainfall is reviving a little harvest expectations, and fuelled a 2.5% tumble overnight to Aus$278.00 a tonne in January east coast wheat futures in Sydney.

In the US, the rains slowing row crop harvests are seen as a boost to winter wheat sowings, which had been tested by dry ground.

"Climatic conditions are slightly improving in the US with beneficial rains on winter wheat areas, where plantings delays could lead to another drop of acreage setting a record of weakness for planted surfaces," Agritel said.

'Rains are needed'

However, dryness fears are growing for wheat plantings in the former Soviet Union

"Weather forecasters continue to expect dry weather in dry winter wheat regions in adjacent areas of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan," CBA's Tobin Gorey said.

"The worry grows with time because descending temperatures will mean poor crop establishment."

Earlier this week, SovEcon cautioned that "rains are needed" in European Russia to support ideas of a bumper 2018 harvest.

"Weather conditions were very dry in recent weeks. In many cases, farmers actually plant seeds in dry soil and hope for the best," the Moscow-based analysis group said.

For now, Chicago winter wheat futures gained, but cautiously, adding 0.2% to $4.43 a bushel for December delivery.

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