SOFTS-Cocoa near 2-1/2 year high, arabica coffee steady

* Cocoa 2013/14 consumption growth to exceed long-term trend

* Rain forecast on weekend in Brazil coffee growing regions

LONDON, March 18 (Reuters) - Cocoa futures held near a 2-1/2 year high on Tuesday, boosted by strong consumption growth that was expected to outstrip supply.

Arabica coffee futures on ICE steadied after a recent pullback, as the market digested the major gains made in the past two months due to dry weather in top grower Brazil, while sugar eased.

The global cocoa market is facing its second consecutive global deficit in 2013/14.

"The prospects of 2013/14 are more bullish because consumption numbers are strong," said a European analyst, estimating consumption growth this season would exceed the long term trend of around 3 percent.

Cocoa futures on ICE were little changed with May off $2 or 0.1 percent at $3,028 at 1206 GMT, holding just below the previous session's 2-1/2-year high of $3,047.

The growing likelihood of an El Nino weather event also underpinned cocoa prices as adverse weather in growing countries could tighten supply.

"All the worst crops in West Africa occur during El Nino years," said the analyst, adding a caveat that El Nino does not guarantee a bad crop. This depended on the severity and the timing.

El Nino can cause flooding and heavy rains in the United States and South America and drought in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Cocoa futures on Liffe were firm with July prices up 1 pound at 1,894 pounds a tonne.


Arabica coffee prices were firm, having slipped from last week's two-year high as some participants took profits after a searing rally saw prices rise as much as 85 percent since the start of the year.

May arabica coffee futures on ICE edged up 0.25 cents or 0.1 percent to $1.9165 per lb. The second month peaked at $2.0975 last week, its highest level since February 2012.

In recent sessions the rally has lost momentum partly due to expectations that the weather in Brazil could improve in the coming weeks, dealers said.

"There's rain forecast at the weekend but we've had rains forecast in the past in January and February that didn't really materialise in any meaningful way, so let's see what happens," said the analyst.

May robusta coffee futures slid $19 or 0.9 percent to $2,140 a tonne, below last week's 17-month high of $2,218.

Raw sugar futures edged further from their four-month peak of 18.47 cents hit earlier this month when dry weather concerns in Brazil drove prices higher.

Analysts expect ample stocks should provide a buffer to any production losses in Brazil.

May raw sugar futures on ICE were down 0.06 cent, or 0.4 percent, at 16.99 cents a lb.

"Current weather concerns and their potential to dent production in 2014/15 reinforce our view that price risks in H2-2014 are to the upside," Abah Ofon, analyst at Standard Chartered said.

Liffe May white sugar futures were down 60 cents or 0.1 percent at $452.90 per tonne.

(Reporting by Sarah McFarlane; Editing by Anthony Barker)