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
NEW YORK, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Oil prices hit nine-month highs on Friday and metals markets rallied as well on stronger trade data out of China and the United States, putting commodities up broadly for the first time in three days. Heating oil and natural gas also rose as a powerful blizzard over the U.S. Northeast should ramp up heating demand there. 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 USDA raised its forecast for global ending stocks of the oilseed. Soft commodities such as coffee and sugar also bucked the broadly higher trend in commodities. Premium coffee grade arabica fell to an nine-week low and raw sugar touched a 2-1/2-year low, pressured by expectations by huge Brazilian harvests. The 19-commodity Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index rose by a modest 0.1 percent by 2:30 p.m. ET (1930 GMT). For the week, the commodities bellwether was down 1.3 percent -- heading for its sharpest weekly decline in a month -- largely because of a broad market tumble on Monday.
BRENT CRUDE HITS MAY HIGHS 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 rose up to $119.17, the highest since May, and at 2:20 p.m. EST (1920 GMT) was up 1.4 percent, or $1.63, at $118.85, on course for a fourth consecutive week of gains. U.S. crude's front-month was down 0.1 percent, or 11 cents, bringing the disparity between the two crude grades to least to $22 a barrel.
BLIZZARD KICKS UP OIL PRODUCTS, GAS In heating oil and natural gas, traders were watching a powerful blizzard in the northeastern United States that could drop up to three feet (nearly one meter) of snow from Friday to Saturday, potentially causing a spike in heating demand.
Heating oil's front-month rose 1 percent in New York trading to near $3.24 a gallon as the winter storm bore down on the northeastern United States. Natural gas's front-month was up 0.3 percent at $3.294 per million British thermal units. Gasoline 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 jumped 1.7 percent to above $3.05 a gallon.
COPPER UP WITH CHINA IMPORTS 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 TUMBLE ON USDA DATA 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 was down 2 percent, or 30 cents, at around $14.56 a bushel. 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 was down 0.1 percent at around $7.09 a bushel. It had rallied to above $7.20 earlier. Wheat pared gains from earlier highs, despite a surprise drop in the U.S. ending stocks forecast. Front-month wheat was up 0.2 percent at around $7.57, after reaching above $7.70 earlier.
Prices at 2:33 p.m. EST (1933 GMT)
LAST NET PCT YTD CHG CHG CHG US crude 95.72 -0.11 -0.1% 4.2% Brent crude 118.82 1.58 1.3% 6.9% Natural gas 3.275 -0.010 -0.3% -2.3%US gold 1666.50 -4.40 -0.3% -0.6% Gold 1667.76 -2.93 -0.2% -0.4% US Copper 375.60 2.90 0.8% 2.8% LME Copper 8276.50 76.50 0.9% 4.4% Dollar 80.268 0.076 0.1% 4.6%US corn 710.00 -0.75 -0.1% 1.7% US soybeans 1457.25 -29.50 -2.0% 2.7% US wheat 757.50 1.50 0.2% -2.6%US Coffee 141.80 1.50 1.1% -1.4% US Cocoa 2234.00 -4.00 -0.2% -0.1% US Sugar 18.17 0.01 0.1% -6.9%US silver 31.470 0.067 0.2% 4.1%US palladium 753.65 3.20 0.4% 7.2%