Does the grain market, like heroic Brock, have a bullet through its chest?

Here, for the last time (I promise!!!), I share with you this noble image of Canada’s greatest hero – Isaac Brock – dying as his troops attempted to throw back an American invasion on the Niagara peninsula.

 

In real life he didn’t have a chance to urge on the brave York volunteers -as this image suggests – because he almost certainly died instantly from a sniper’s bullet through his chest (he was leading from the front, like heroes are supposed to). Yesterday was the bicentenary of his funeral.

I imagine it must have been a grim day as he was buried, along with the next officer who tried to lead the men up the Heights that day, but the pain of his loss would have been mitigated by the feeling of triumph most Canadians would have been experiencing after eventually winning the battle and preserving their independence from the United States.

It’s a darkening time of year, and a bad time to lose a hero, but a great time to win a crucial battle and go towards the winter feeling safe from immediate conquest.

What this has to do with the ag markets is this, at least to my jumbled mind: Right now the ag markets seem grim, at least compared to the thrilling market rally the grains went through this summer. While prices are still high in historical terms, they’re lower than they were a few weeks ago, and there’s been a steady grinding lower. Lots of folks have been arguing that the grain market rally of 2012 is over, and there’s not much chance of any upside. They expect a gradual grind lower.

That’s certainly a reasonable argument: U.S. soybean yields are better than most expected, South America’s doing OK with spring seeding, demand is falling fast for grains. If everything in South America goes OK, and more normal weather conditions return to the U.S. Midwest next spring and summer, this Thanksgiving turkey has already been cooked, eaten and the carcass chucked out, like the one from my house. The grain market rally, like Brock, might have a fatal bullet through the chest and be in the stages of dying.

But I still think there’s hope for crop farmers that they’ll get one more kick at the can, for really just the flip sides of the coins I laid out in the paragraph above. Soybean yields are better than some expected, but stocks are very tight and if China came in big with demand, anything could happen. South America’s going OK, but something could go wrong, and that would have a big impact. Normal weather could hit the Midwest, but then again it might not.

And even if everything goes normally through the winter, prices could recover a bit. We almost always get a harvesttime slump in prices. Most attribute that to farmers selling crops right off the combine, depressing elevator prices. Others think that the constant lies farmers tell government surveyors over the summer about how crappy their crops are looking end up being replaced by the truth of bigger than expected yields, so the market realizes there’s more crop than expected. And as the crop comes in, the danger that some freak storm or weather condition can wreck the crop disappears. Personally, I favour the idea that the darkening of the days, the greying of the skies, the cooling of temperatures, the arrival of frosty mornings and the loss of all colour from the world around us puts people into a more morose mood, and that douses some of the greed that drives prices higher and replaces fear with dour insouciance, cutting the legs out from any real rally until people cheer up with the first white snows of the Christmas period.

Whatever the cause, the harvest slump is a typical thing we see at this time of year, so that could be a big bit of what we’re dealing with now rather than the definite end of this historical grain market rally. For all the grim stories, there could be surprising endings that work out better for crop growers.

Just like with the death of Isaac Brock. There, dead in battle, went Canada’s best chance of surviving the American onslaught. His energy is what brought together the aboriginal-Canadian-British force that repeatedly threw back the invaders. And his death was a great blow. But in the months to come, confidence among the Canadians grew – rather than waned – and the war was survived and won. And over the decades to come Brock rose as a legend, myth and source of inspiration in the building of the nascent Canadian character.

So maybe our bloodied grain prices have a chance to get up, stuff something into that gaping chest wound, and lead prices onward and upward again! Or maybe the rally truly is dead.

But it’s too early to write it off yet.

Anyhow, couldn’t refuse one last chance to talk about Brock and flash that image into your eyes. This is, after all, our effective bicentenary.

(The top and bottom images are from Wikimedia Commons. The chart is from www.barchart.com)

 

 

About the author

Ed White — Ed White has specialized in markets coverage since 2001 and has achieved the Derivatives Market Specialist (DMS) designation with the Canadian Securities Institute.

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