SOFTS-Liffe cocoa hits 8-1/2 month low as commods retreat
* Ivory Coast cocoa production forecast to fall 13 percent
* ICE arabica coffee unable to hold recent gains
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LONDON, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Cocoa futures on Liffe fell to an 8-1/2 month low on Friday while sugar and coffee prices were also weaker, dragged down by a broad-based retreat in commodity markets driven by concerns the U.S. may change its monetary policy.
The Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB Index, a widely followed commodities indicator, was off 0.7 percent.
Dealers said the scope for further losses in cocoa may be limited by declining production in top grower Ivory Coast.
May cocoa futures on Liffe were off 6 pounds or 0.4 percent at 1,436 pounds a tonne after dipping to 1,426 pounds, the lowest level for the second month since April 13, 2012.
Ivory Coast expects its cocoa output to dip 13 percent this season to 1.289 million tonnes due mainly to a lack of investment in ageing plantations, a top official at the Coffee and Cocoa Council said in an interview.
"The lower harvest in Ivory Coast is likely to contribute to the first supply deficit on the global cocoa market for three years in 2012/13 which should help cocoa prices recover in the coming weeks and months," Commerzbank said in a market note.
ICE March cocoa futures traded down $25 or 1.1 percent at $2,231 per tonne.
Arabica coffee futures on ICE also slipped, as the market was unable to hold onto recent gains, edging back towards the two-and-a-half year low hit in December.
March arabica futures traded down 1.35 cents or 0.9 percent at $1.4515 per lb. The contract has fallen back after peaking at $1.5195 on Thursday, its highest level in around three weeks.
"It didn't hold that initial support around $1.50 and we find ourselves back towards $1.45 on March. The market feels quite comfortable there," one London broker said.
"There is a lot of arabica around. Certified stocks are still huge," the broker added.
Coffee exports from Costa Rica increased 28 percent in December, compared with the same month a year earlier, reaching 100,120 60-kg bags for the month, the country's national coffee institute Icafe said on Thursday.
Robusta coffee futures on Liffe were lower with dealers noted a weakening in the nearby premium <LRC-1=R> to just under $40 after running into resistance recently at $50.
"There definitely seems to be someone willing to sell at $50 and the market doesn't seem to break that level for the time being," one broker said.
March robusta coffee futures were down $10 or 0.5 percent at $1,935 a tonne after peaking on Thursday at $1,969, the highest level for the contract since Nov. 13.
Raw sugar futures on ICE joined the retreat and dealers said ample supplies and weak demand on the physical market were bearish for the near-term price outlook.
March raw sugar futures on ICE traded down 0.21 cent or 1.1 percent at 18.89 cents per lb.
New York March sugar will seek a support at 18.81 cents per lb, a break below which will open the way towards 18.31 cents, according to Reuters analyst Wang Tao.
March white sugar on Liffe eased $3.60 or 0.7 percent to $511.00 per tonne.
(Editing by Alison Birrane)