Hurricane Frances Spooks N.Y. Commodity Markets

The specter of Hurricane Frances (search) plunged the cotton, coffee and orange juice markets into tumult Wednesday as prices rallied on fears the storm will wreak havoc in key growing areas, dealers said.

The benchmark November frozen concentrated orange juice contract at the New York Board of Trade (search) soared to an 8-month high of 78 cents a pound, while the key December cotton contract surged to a 3-month high of 56 cents per pound.

NYBOT coffee futures rose about 1.9 percent as speculators bought into the market.

The powerful hurricane, packing winds of 140 mph and barreling toward the Bahamas, put millions of people along Florida's heavily populated east coast on alert.

"The market has been inspired by the hurricane concerns," said one trader based in southern Florida. "We are following the situation carefully here, since we are directly affected. The forecast is putting the path north of Miami, so we don't see any problems so far."

Forecasters have also said Frances could well veer north and target key cotton farms in the southeastern United States, especially in Georgia.

With cotton plants now spouting open bolls, torrential rain from Frances could decimate yields and quality just before the cotton is harvested.

The cotton market has also surged on speculative short-covering and expectations that demand, especially from China, the world's top consumer, may rise in the 2004/05 season.

The National Weather Service (search) said Wednesday Frances could be in central Bahamas by early Friday and close to Florida's east coast near Palm Beach, some 75 miles north of Miami, by early Saturday.

Speculative profit-taking later in the Wednesday session pruned the surge in the cotton market, but juice futures remained strong.