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