COMMODITIES-Corn, wheat slump on record plantings; natgas spikes

Tue May 21, 2013 3:48pm EDT

* Corn, wheat prices set April lows as plantings surge
    * Oil, gold, copper slip on worries of Fed cutback
    * Gas rallies on demand for gas-driven air conditioning

    By Barani Krishnan
    NEW YORK, May 21 (Reuters) - Corn prices hit multi-week lows
on Tuesday, which pulled wheat lower, after record U.S. corn
plantings, while oil and metals markets slipped amid worries the
Federal Reserve might cut back its stimulus for the American
economy.
    Natural gas futures neared a one-month high, mitigating some
of the losses in commodities, after warmer U.S. weather boosted
demand for gas-driven air-conditioning.
    The Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, a global
indicator for commodity prices, fell 0.3 percent, retreating
from its one-week high in the previous session. Thirteen of the
CRB's 19 components settled in the negative, with corn, cotton, 
coffee and gasoline prices shedding about 2 percent each.
    Corn and wheat prices fell to April lows as U.S. growers
took advantage of mostly clear skies last week to plant corn at
a blistering pace. Corn planting jumped to 71 percent complete
from 28 percent a week earlier, the U.S. Department of
Agriculture said in a weekly report on Monday afternoon. That
topped analysts' expectations of 59 to 70 percent finished.
  
    The increase of 43 percentage points indicates that farmers
in the world's biggest corn producer seeded a single-week U.S.
record of 41.8 million acres. 
    "It is unbelievable how quickly they can plant corn in the
U.S. which is putting pressure on prices," said Stefan Meyer, a
manager for cash markets at brokerage INTL FCStone in Sydney.
    Corn prices had seen sporadic spikes in recent weeks as
investors built up bull spreads - buying old-crop contracts and
selling deferred months - as supplies of the grain ran thin at
processors and elevators around the U.S. Midwest.
    "Bull spreaders have been working pretty aggressively and I
think there are some that are starting to pull the trigger on
coming out of a few of those," said Jason Britt, president of
Central States Commodities in Kansas City. "You get a little
profit taking."
    In Tuesday's session, corn for July delivery ended
Chicago trade down 1.5 percent at $6.40 a bushel after touching
a six-week low of $6.32-1/2. July wheat finished 0.7
percent lower at $6.80-1/2 a bushel after a seven-week bottom at
$6.74. 
    
    OIL, METALS DOWN
    Oil prices slipped as investors turned anxious about the
possibility of the Fed scaling back its bond buying program,
which could push the dollar higher and hinder demand for energy
products.
    Comments by Fed officials and upbeat U.S. data last week
fueled speculation that the central bank might start to reduce
its bond purchases this year.   
    Investors are awaiting the release of minutes of the Fed's
last meeting and testimony by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to
Congress, both scheduled for Wednesday. 
    Benchmark Brent crude oil out of Europe's North Sea 
closed down 0.9 percent at $103.91 per barrel. New York-traded
U.S. crude finished down 0.6 percent at $96.16. 
    Concerns about Fed policy and disapppointing copper imports
by China weighed on the metal's prices. The three-month copper
futures contract in London closed down $24 at $7,375 a
tonne. 
    Gold also fell, with the spot price of bullion down half a
percent at $1,376 an ounce late evening in New York after
sliding as much as 2 percent earlier. 
    Natural gas futures extended gains for a third straight
session as warmer weather that blanketed much of the United
States boosted demand for air conditioning.
    The front-month natural gas contract in New York 
settled at $4.19 per million British thermal units, up 10.2
cents, or 2.5 percent. It had hit a 21-month high of $4.444 on
May 1. 
    "Natural gas futures have again probed to a new recent high,
with the forecast for warmer-than-normal temperatures seen as
sufficiently supportive," said Citi Futures energy specialist
Tim Evans. 
    
 Prices at 3:36 p.m. EDT (1935 GMT)      
                             LAST/      NET    PCT     YTD
                             CLOSE      CHG    CHG     CHG
 US crude                    95.89    -0.55  -0.6%    4.4%
 Brent crude                103.77    -1.03  -1.0%   -6.6%
 Natural gas                 4.192    0.102   2.5%   25.1%
 
 US gold                   1377.60    -6.50  -0.5%  -17.8%
 Gold                      1375.54   -17.50  -1.3%  -17.8%
 US Copper                  334.35    -1.65  -0.5%   -8.5%
 LME Copper                7370.00   -29.00  -0.4%   -7.1%
 Dollar                     83.809    0.073   0.1%    9.2%
                             
 
 US corn                    640.00    -9.50  -1.5%   -8.3%
 US soybeans               1478.25    13.75   0.9%    4.2%
 US wheat                   680.50    -4.75  -0.7%  -12.5%
 
 US Coffee                  132.70    -2.45  -1.8%   -7.7%
 US Cocoa                  2345.00    44.00   1.9%    4.9%
 US Sugar                    16.86     0.05   0.3%  -13.6%
 
 US silver                  22.455   -0.127  -0.6%  -25.7%
 US platinum               1458.40   -26.20  -1.8%   -5.2%
 US palladium               748.10    -2.65  -0.4%    6.4%
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