February 8, 2013 / 8:55 PM / 5 years ago

COMMODITIES-Brent crude at 9-month high; soybeans slump

* China import data, US trade deficit aid oil, metals rally
    * Soybeans tumble after USDA raises global stocks forecast
    * Cocoa at 8-week low, sugar 2-1/2 year bottom

 (Updates with closing prices)
    By Barani Krishnan
    NEW YORK, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Oil prices hit nine-month highs
on Friday and metals markets rallied on stronger trade data out
of China and the United States, putting commodities up broadly
for the first time in three days.
    Heating oil also rose as a powerful blizzard over the U.S.
Northeast was expected to ramp up heating demand in the region.
    On the metals side, copper prices snapped a three-day
decline. A softer dollar, a surge in Chinese imports and a
sharper-than-expected drop in the U.S trade deficit for December
attracted buying.     
    In grain markets, soybeans fell sharply after the midday
release of a monthly report in which the U.S. Department of
Agriculture raised its forecast for global ending stocks of the
    Soft commodities such as coffee and sugar also bucked the
broadly higher trend in commodities. Premium coffee grade
arabica fell to a nine-week low and raw sugar 
touched a 2-1/2-year low, pressured by expectations by huge
Brazilian harvests. 
    The Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index settled
flat, with 11 of the 19 markets tracked by the commodities
bellwether ending in positive territory.
    The CRB had fallen in two previous sessions and three times
in the week, the mostly sharply on Monday after a risk aversion
across markets sparked by a tumble in Wall Street stocks. For
the week, the commodities index was down 1.3 percent -- its
sharpest weekly decline in a month. 
    Benchmark Brent crude oil in London hit its highest since
May after Chinese crude imports rose to the third highest daily
rate on record. China's overall exports and imports were much
stronger than expected in January, signaling a rebound in the
world's second biggest oil consumer. 
    Goldman Sachs, one of the most influential banks in
commodity markets, said Brent's rally this year appeared "less
driven by supply shocks and instead by improving demand." 
    "Global oil demand has surprised to the upside in recent
months, consistent with the pick-up in economic activity," the
bank's analysts said in a research note. It advised clients to
maintain a long position in the S&P GSCI Brent Crude Total
Return Index. 
    Brent's front-month contract settled up 1.4 percent,
or $1.66, at $118.90 per barrel after hitting a nine-month high
of $119.17. For the week, it rose 1.8 percent, marking a fourth
consecutive week of gains. 
    U.S. crude's front-month finished down 0.1 percent,
or 11 cents at $95.72, bringing the disparity between the two
crude grades to above $23 a barrel.
  Crude oil aside, prices of oil products also rose as a
powerful blizzard in northeast United States threatened to drop
up to three feet (nearly one meter) of snow over the weekend,
raising expectations for heating demand. 
    Heating oil's front-month closed up 1.2 percent in
New York at $3.2384 a gallon as the winter storm bore down on
the northeastern United States.
    Gasoline also rallied as motorists, mindful of the severe
fuel disruptions after last year's Hurricane Sandy, rushed to
fill their cars, leading to shortages in parts of New York City.
Gasoline's front-month settled up 2 percent at $3.0588 a
    Natural gas initially rose with heating oil before closing
lower. Front-month natural gas initially settled down 0.4
percent at $3.272 per million British thermal units. 
    Copper rose mainly on higher Chinese imports of the
commodity in January.
    China, the largest copper buyer accounting for around 40
percent of refined copper demand, imported 350,958 tonnes of
copper in January. That was almost a 3 percent rise from
December, helped mostly by importers bringing forward copper
shipments to avoid delays during a week-long festive holiday in
China next week. 
    "We expect imports to start rising again in March, parallel
to higher seasonal demand, which should support copper prices in
the medium term," Commerzbank said in a note, referring to
Chinese copper demand.
    Three-month copper in London closed at $8,295 a
tonne, up 1.2 percent on the day. 
    Soybeans tumbled in Chicago trading after the U.S.
Department of Agriculture raised above trade expectations its
forecast for global supplies at the end of the
September-to-August marketing year.
    USDA trimmed its U.S. soybean end-of-season stocks outlook
to 125 million bushels from 135 million a month ago. But it
raised its global ending stocks forecast by 1.1 percent to 60.12
million tonnes. The revision came after a million-tonne drop
forecast for Argentina's crop was offset by an equal gain in
Brazil's estimated output. 
    Soybean futures' front-month contract in Chicago 
settled down 2.3 percent, or 34-1/4 cents, at $14.52-1/2 a
    Corn prices also slipped on spillover pressure from the
lower soybeans and as the USDA raised its U.S. and global ending
stocks outlook by more than expected.
    Corn's front-month contract in Chicago finished down
0.3 percent at $7.09 a bushel. It had rallied to above $7.20
    Wheat pared gains from earlier highs, despite a surprise
drop in the U.S. ending stocks forecast. Front-month wheat 
settled nearly flat at $7.56-1/4 a bushel, after reaching above
$7.70 earlier. 
 Prices at 3:28 p.m. EST (2028 GMT)      
                             LAST/      NET    PCT     YTD
                             CLOSE      CHG    CHG     CHG
 US crude                    95.76    -0.07  -0.1%    4.3%
 Brent crude                118.78     1.54   1.3%    6.9%
 Natural gas                 3.272   -0.013  -0.4%   -2.4%
 US gold                   1666.00    -4.40  -0.3%   -0.6%
 Gold                      1668.10    -2.59  -0.2%   -0.4%
 US Copper                  375.95     3.25   0.9%    2.9%
 LME Copper                8294.00    94.00   1.1%    4.6%
 Dollar                     80.228    0.036   0.0%    4.5%
 US corn                    709.00    -1.75  -0.3%    1.5%
 US soybeans               1452.50   -34.25  -2.3%    2.4%
 US wheat                   756.25     0.25   0.0%   -2.8%
 US Coffee                  141.05     0.75   0.5%   -1.9%
 US Cocoa                  2232.00    -6.00  -0.3%   -0.2%
 US Sugar                    18.14    -0.02  -0.1%   -7.0%
 US silver                  31.441    0.038   0.1%    4.0%
 US palladium               751.50     1.05   0.1%    6.8%

 (Editing by Bob Burgdorfer  and Marguerita Choy)
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