(Adds market background, details)
By Chris Prentice
NEW YORK, Feb 27 (Reuters) - ED&F Man and Sucres & Denrees (Sucden) are expected to buy just over 1 million tonnes of raw sugar against the March ICE contract that expired on Friday, raising questions about whether the larger-than expected purchase has homes as prices tumble.
The two trade houses are expected to be purchasers of 19,998 lots against the ICE Futures U.S. contract, worth about $312 million based on Friday's closing price, according to three U.S. traders. That would be the largest since October 2013, when Louis Dreyfus Commodities bought the biggest volume against the ICE contract in at least 24 years.
Origins are expected to include Central America and Brazil. Sucden will receive 10,351 lots and ED&F Man is expected to take the remainder.
Officials at the trade houses could not be reached immediately for comment. The exchange will publish the official details on Monday.
There were expected to be about six to eight large trade houses delivering, a slightly higher than average number of participants.
The tallies shed some light on the jockeying that took place ahead of the expiry, as the world's major sugar traders took bearish bets that nearby futures trading at a premium to prices further out were likely to fall, looking to make money off volatile spreading activity.
The March contract closed down 0.15 cent, or 1.1 percent, at 13.93 cents a lb on its final day of trade, expiring at a 16-point premium to the May.
The second-month May hit a five-year low of 13.70 cents a lb, under pressure as expectations mount that it will take longer than expected to erode huge inventories that have amassed after back-to-back supply surpluses. (Reporting by Chris Prentice; Editing by Alan Crosby and Marguerita Choy)