The bearish sentiment that took over Chicago Board of Trade grain markets last week may continue in coming days, especially if nearly ideal greenhouse conditions continue to help maturing crops in the Midwest. Confirmation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of bumper corn and soybean harvests coming this autumn sent grain prices lower last week. But new export interest by China for soybeans or slide in the dollar could still buoy prices. Soybeans will grab the spotlight when the markets open on Sunday night after a huge dive on Friday as the CBOT August soybean contract expired 87-1/4 cents lower — or 7.4 percent — at $11, a two-week low. Disappointing monthly domestic soybean crush numbers along with big, unexpected last-minute deliveries against the August soy contract — a signal that some companies had secured enough cash beans for now before harvest — triggered the selling. ”Beans are the market to be tracking the next few days. They remain the most jittery and lively all the grains,” said Gavin Maguire, an analyst with brokerage EHedger. “But they also have reached a very critical technical point. If we open lower (this) week, essentially the charts will have etched out a very bearish pattern. However, if new-crop soybeans can hold chart support that “leaves the upside for another run,” he added. Now that August soy contract has expired, traders will watch new-crop November beans for buy/sell signals. Key support in that contract, always the main “harvest” delivery each year, is seen at $9.80, a level penetrated late Friday. November closed just above that point at $9.81-1/2, down 37-1/4 cents. Given the price break, new sales to China of U.S. soybeans would provide support. Driven by China’s huge appetite, U.S. soy export sales with more than three weeks left in the season was already 104 percent of USDA’s forecast. HOT AS ALWAYS, BUT RAINS EXPECTEDThe weather remains the wild card that can always rattle traders, but the most recent forecasts late Friday indicated plenty of rain and heat across the U.S. Midwest — ideal conditions to promote corn and soybean growth and yields.”We have to make sure this rain event develops as forecast, especially in the central and eastern Corn Belt next week — filling in the dry spots,” said analyst Dan Cekander at brokerage Newedge USA. Dry pockets being watched include southern Minnesota, northern Iowa and northwestern Ohio. But most of the Midwest has had more than enough moisture to enhance crop development following the coolest, wettest July in years. Corn went through pollination last month under perfect conditions, the main reason the USDA boosted its corn yield estimate by six bushels per acre to 159.5, just under the record of 160.3 bpa. As CBOT traders say: big crops get bigger. So if August weather is as nice as July was, the U.S. corn crop — now forecast as the second-largest in history at 12.76 billion bushels — may get even larger. Importers are quite aware of that. For soybeans, U.S. output is already projected to be the largest on record at 3.199 billion bushels. Soy would benefit even more than corn from rains in August, since beans fill pods out this month and mature a little later than Midwest corn. The annual Pro Farmer Midwest Crop Tour begins on Monday, giving traders another read on the U.S. corn and soybean harvest. USDA data last week was based on Aug. 1 conditions. Crop scouts this week will inspect and sample fields from Ohio to South Dakota and estimate final yields on Friday.Lastly, while fundamentals usually dominate the price action in grains during the U.S. growing season, sharp moves in the dollar, equities and oil — all indicators of the health of the economy — will also continue to factor into grains. ”They are still important because you have some people who trade commodities according to what those outside factors are doing,” Cekander said.PHOTO: Northern Illinois soybean field taken by Christine Stebbins.
The U.S. government’s long-awaited crop report on Wednesday will give world grain traders their first indications from field surveys of expected final yields. With the United States providing more than a third of the world’s soybean exports and more than half of its corn exports, the U.S. Agriculture Department’s August report always grabs headlines. Until now, historical yield averages have been used to project likely harvests based on planted acreage. Still, this particular August report may be trickier to interpret than usual, because corn and soybeans remain immature for this time of year given rain-delayed spring plantings and the unseasonably cool growing season so far in the Midwest. States across the Corn Belt from Ohio to Nebraska have seen their chilliest July in more than 100 years. Ordinarily, that might mean big yields, especially for corn which pollinates in July. As of Aug. 2, only 14 percent of corn was “doughing” after pollination, versus the five-year average pace of 29 percent, according to USDA weekly reports. For soybeans, August weather is usually key to yields as the crop sets and fills pods this month. As of Aug. 2, only 36 percent of beans had set pods compared with the 54 percent average. Another twist for grain analysts will be a special survey of corn and sorghum acres taken in July that USDA has promised to examine “variable weather conditions” in key growing areas. ”USDA’s crop report on the 12th will be a direction finder, anticipating what USDA has up its sleeve not only on acreage change for corn and sorghum,” said Joe Victor, analyst at Allendale Inc. “You can not rule out the possibility that USDA might have some minor changes for soybean acres.” On average, grain analysts expect the government to cut its current planted corn area of 87 million acres by roughly a million acres. But given July Midwest weather they also expect USDA to boost corn production by 4 bushels per acre from its current yield estimate of 153.4 bpa. USDA already is forecasting the U.S. production at 12.29 billions bushels, the second largest on record after 2007′s 13.04 billion, and a record 3.26 billion bushel soy crop. The August report is always key for grain production estimates. But demand, especially for soybeans, will also continue to draw huge interest. Analysts will watch for USDA’s soybean demand forecast, any fresh soybean purchases by China and changes in the bottom line: end-season stockpiles. ”U.S. soybeans and U.S. products are priced by far and away the most competitive on the world market, priced significantly better than Argentina and Brazil,” said grain market analyst Terry Roggensack of The Hightower Report. Weakness in the dollar is part of the attraction for foreign buyers. But Brazil and Argentina, the second and third largest soy exporters, also now have limited supplies left. WEATHER WATCHERS Weather — not just in the U.S. but India — will be key for the markets before and after the USDA Wednesday data. Traders are getting edgy about scattered dry pockets in the northern Midwest, wondering if pod-filling soybeans will be hurt. But the grain belt is also supposed to finally heat up — just what corn needs now to boost maturation. In India, crops are suffering from low monsoon rains. ”The initial impact of the bad monsoons has been mostly on sugar and rice,” Roggensack said. “The market’s focus now is … ‘What if the Indian soybean and groundnut crops are significantly damaged?’” ”India is the biggest edible oil importer in the world,” he said. “If its yields are 15 percent, you’re talking about a huge impact on the world’s oilseed and vegetable oil market.”PHOTO: Illinois soybean field taken by Chris Stebbins on Aug. 2.
Grain traders will be gearing up this week for the biggest crop report of the summer on Aug. 12, leaving the door open for plenty of volatility in Chicago Board of Trade grain and oilseed markets. That will be the first time the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts the size of the 2009 U.S. corn and soybean crops based on actual field surveys, rather than historical yields. ”The markets take on a life of their own in advance of these crop reports,” said Rich Feltes, senior vice president of MF Global Research. “I think we would be able to hold the value of soybeans fairly well going into the crop report. ”But I would think the corn market … is going to struggle unless the weather looks adverse. Wheat is going to be tailing around with corn.” Soybeans continue to be buoyed by USDA’s outlook for U.S. soy stocks to slip to a 32-year low of 110 million bushels by the end of August, when the 2008/09 marketing season closes, given brisk export demand. Some analysts say soy stocks could get even tighter given China’s voracious demand. USDA last week said China booked another 1.9 million tonnes of U.S. soybeans, including 120,000 tonnes from rapidly dwindling 2008 harvest supplies. For corn, the story remains perfect growing conditions in July, when most of the crop was pollinating. That spells big yields. Wheat still looks pressured by poor export demand and prospects for USDA to raise its 2009 U.S. output estimate. Given last spring’s delayed corn planting, many analysts expect USDA to trim its corn harvested acreage figure on Aug. 12. But given the excellent recent growing weather, that cut is not likely to translate into an overall smaller corn crop. ”An increase in yield could more than offset a decline in acreage,” said Brian Basting with Advance Trading, a Bloomington, Illinois, brokerage and farm adviser. In July, USDA said it expects U.S. farmers will harvest the second-largest corn crop on record at 12.29 billion bushels, at an average yield of 153.4 bushels per acre. Soybean output is forecast at a record-large 3.260 billion bushels. DOLLAR FALLS, GRAINS RISE Positioning before the crop report “along with the outside markets, the U.S. dollar in particular, will continue to drive our views,” said Dan Basse, president of AgResource, a consultant in Chicago. The dollar slid to its lowest levels of 2009 on Friday as an unexpectedly small contraction in the U.S. economy fed some economic optimism and curbed safe-haven demand for the dollar. Not surprisingly, the Reuters-Jefferies CRB index <.CRB> of 19 commodities rose to a six-week high during the week. If the dollar sinks further in the coming week it will remain a buy signal for commodities. A weak dollar makes U.S. exports such as grains cheaper for overseas buyers. A yellow flag for speculators, however, will remain the rising chances for government regulation in the free-wheeling commodity markets. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission will resume hearings on Wednesday, keeping markets on edge. Another factor: commodity index funds, sizable “long-only” traders from their mandated index holdings, will on Friday begin rolling forward their September futures positions. Last week, CBOT August soybeans rose 11 percent to close at $11.34 a bushel, powered by export demand. Corn and wheat were lifted by the strength in soy and by the falling dollar. September corn closed up 7 percent for the week at $3.39-1/2 while September wheat finished 2 percent higher at $5.28-1/4.PHOTO:Northern Illinois corn field taken August 2 by Christine Stebbins
U.S. grain traders look for a mild rebound in prices in coming days after agricultural commodities tumbled to multi-month lows last week. Analysts cite the big drop in grain prices and the soft dollar as likely stirring fresh export interest in U.S. corn, wheat and even still-pricey soybeans — even though soy exports have been red-hot all season. ”It’s going to be export-demand driven,” said Terry Reilly, a grain market analyst with Citigroup in Chicago. If the past week was any indication, sales may be hefty. Last week, wheat export sales were the biggest since last September at 584,200 tonnes, corn sales topped one million tonnes for the third straight week, and China booked more than 1.0 million tonnes of soybeans, including another 283,500 tonnes for delivery before the start of the 2009 U.S. harvest. Any hint that U.S. Corn Belt weather will heat up this week could also feed a bounceback in Chicago Board of Trade grain markets. Corn, the biggest row crop, is now entering its key growth stage of pollination when too much heat and too little moisture can erode final yields. ”There’s really no premiums built into market in weather because the weather has been fantastic for the U.S. growing season,” Reilly said. “Any little shift in the weather outlook, you’ll start to see those premiums build in the grain markets.” Corn likes warm days and cool nights. Mostly mild temperatures and sporadic showers have so far created an ideal environment for corn and soybeans in the mid-summer growing season. Given the recent ideal weather, after a cold rainy spring that had delayed seeding, markets ended lower last week as the U.S. Agriculture Department’s monthly supply/demand outlook forecast rising grain stocks for a year from now. ”We’re in that doldrums point where we don’t have a lot to trade right now. We’re watching weather and that doesn’t necessarily change that much — conditions are favorable,” said one Chicago grains broker, who said that was a reason outside markets will also stay on the radar for grain traders. Corn, wheat and soybeans fell last week but so did crude oil, gold and other commodities along with equity markets. G8 leaders met in Italy and optimism about any quick recovery for the world economy was absent. In that shadow of weak overall economic demand it remains difficult for commodities to rally. Another a bit unnerving for Chicago grain traders has been the growing signs of increased government regulation coming for commodity markets. Tuesday will mark the last day of trading for July grain contracts as they expire. Given the volatility in the July soybean contract over the past three weeks, plenty of fireworks will be expected by expiration.PHOTO: Northern Illinois soybean field taken July 12 by Christine Stebbins
Grain traders took a three-day breather over the holiday weekend with some looking to see if corn was “knee high by the Fourth of July,” but will be right back to keying on the prices of soybeans and soymeal, raging bull markets due to the razor-thin supply of U.S. soybeans. They say as beans rise or fall, so will wheat and corn. The U.S. Agriculture Department in its quarterly stocks data last week confirmed soybean stocks are dwindling — 597 million bushels on June 1, down 12 percent from a year ago. Supplies look to get even tighter if China, the world’s top soy buyer, keeps buying up remaining stocks. USDA confirmed last week that China booked two more cargoes of American soy, 113,000 tonnes, to be shipped before the 2009 harvest begins. On Thursday, USDA also reported China booked 660,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans for delivery after Sept. 1, a reminder of China’s continuing muscle in the physical grains market. ”Of course we are always watching the Chinese on what they are going to do with the demand on beans,” said Don Roose, an analyst with U.S. Commodities. So are money managers, with CBOT floor traders citing new inflows of capital into soybeans with the start of the new trading month — and third quarter — on Wednesday. That interest came despite USDA on Tuesday estimating that U.S. farmers are planting a record-high 77.5 million acres to soybeans this spring and summer. Traders say the jury is still out: as of June 28, No. 2 producer Illinois, still had 12 percent of its soybeans to seed, some 1 million acres. ”There are lots of acres dedicated to beans and new-crop prices don’t warrant all that much support. But if speculators continue to buy them, bean prices have the potential to stay strong,” said Gavin Maguire, an analyst with brokerage EHedger. The spread play between old-crop July soybeans and new-crop November soybeans is also more jarring now that the Chicago Board of Trade July contract is in delivery. CORN NOW A SUMMER-WEATHER MARKET Midwest crop weather is also front and center for traders. ”When you’re looking at a summer crop like corn, weather is the only thing that is going to move this market right now,” said Prudential Bache Commodities analyst Shawn McCambridge. The U.S. corn crop is “made” in July when it pollinates. So far, growing conditions have been nearly ideal west of the Mississippi River and behind to the east but still on track. ”The weather is benign for corn through the middle of July so it’s going to be hard for market to get too excited about corn, especially with the big acreage number USDA came out with,” one veteran Chicago Board of Trade floor broker said. He cited USDA’s June 30 shocker: U.S. corn acreage at 87 million acres, the second-largest seedings since 1946. ”The driver will continue to be beans and meal,” the trader said of the CBOT grain complex in the coming week. Photo: Corn knee high by the Fourth of July in northern Illinois, taken by Christine Stebbins
The stage is set for plenty of fireworks in the coming week for U.S. grain markets.The U.S. Department of Agriculture will release two key reports on Tuesday morning. One will reveal how many soybeans are still in U.S. storage bins as of June 1. The second will report how much corn, soybeans and spring wheat farmers planted this season after an unusually wet spring in the eastern Midwest, a bellwether for world grain exports each year.”The one that has the potential for immediate fireworks going into the Fourth of July is the soybean stocks,” said Don Roose, an analyst with U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa.Typically, stocks levels at this time of the season do not garner such huge attention. USDA’s acreage numbers released on June 30 tend to steal the show, since so much guesswork has been done for months on when, where and what farmers plant.But this year’s outlook for U.S. soy stocks on hand to hit a 32-year low before the September harvest amid strong Chinese soybean demand is keeping the heat on soybean figures.”Any time you get into a tight-balance-sheet years there is plenty of uncertainty in the quarterly stocks numbers for beans. That could be the biggest unknown or uncertainty going into this report: the bean stocks,” said Randy Mittelstaedt, an analyst with Chicago brokerage R.J. O’Brien.Analysts are estimating that USDA will report June 1 U.S. soybean stocks at 559 million to 620 million bushels — down from a year ago when June 1 stocks were 676 million bushels.But the acreage numbers could also spark some excitement given the unusual planting season across the heartland. Heavy rains pounded the southeastern Midwest, where some 6 million acres intended for soybean were yet to be planted last week with fields too wet to seed. Late planting — which also hurt corn seeding — puts yield losses in greater play.USDA in March said total intended plantings forecast for major U.S. row crops — corn, soy, wheat, cotton — were down about 4 million acres from 2008. Higher prices since then has some private analysts expecting bigger plantings on Tuesday.”Is it an outlook-altering report? That’s the question,” said Dan Cekander, a grains analyst with Newedge USA, LLC.
The U.S. government’s estimate last week for U.S. soybean stocks to reach a 32-year low by September will continue to dominate action in U.S. grain markets in the coming week — and perhaps all summer. USDA forecast the supply of U.S. soybeans by Aug. 31 to reach 110 million bushels, less than a two-week supply for domestic processors who make vast amounts of soymeal for animal feed and soyoil for food and biofuels. Chicago Board of Trade soybean prices shot to nine-month highs on Thursday after the estimate before pulling back in volatile trading on Friday as speculators cashed profits for the weekend. But the biggest question on the minds of traders remains in place: Will the United States, the world’s single largest grower and exporter of soybeans, run out of beans this summer? ”The answer to that rests on how many more soybeans China sources from the U.S.,” said Rich Feltes, senior vice president at MF Global Research. “Are they going to defer old crop to new crop, whether or not they have cancellations?” China, the world’s largest soy importer, has been buying soybeans at a record pace this season to meet both its domestic crushing needs and build its state reserves. According to the latest customs figures issued just last week, China’s soy imports in the first five months of the year rose 27 percent from a year ago to 17.38 million tonnes, with most of those sourced from the United States. More than half of U.S. soy exports are headed to China this season. In fact, U.S. soy exports are now just shy of USDA’s full-season projection with 2-1/2 months left to go before harvest. China’s competition is squeezing U.S. processors so much some may have to shut down at a time of soaring meal and oil prices, having run out of beans. Unless, of course, China eases its red-hot import pace. Traders said that may be happening. USDA’s weekly export report on Thursday reported China canceled a purchase of 55,000 tonnes of soybeans for this season. “Unknown destinations,” a category that traders often assume is China, also canceled 73,500 tonnes — while booking 226,500 tonnes for delivery in the new season starting Sept. 1. ”This is exactly what has to happen,” said Roy Huckabay, an analyst at The Linn Group in Chicago. “You have to do something to stretch the remaining supplies. We can’t run out.” SOYMEAL PRICES DRIVING THE CRUSH The last thing processors want right now is to run out. Hugely profitable crush margins — near $1 a bushel in central Illinois last week, versus 84 cents a year ago — have processors Cargill, ADM and Bunge churning out meal and oil. Soymeal prices have risen above $400 a ton for the first time since July 2008. If the 2003/04 marketing season is any indication, traders could be in for wild ride this summer as the poker game between domestic processors and Chinese importers plays out. In 2004, U.S. soybean stocks slipped to 112 million bushels after a short crop in 2003. In 2009, the tug of war for beans is widening the July/Nov. soybean spread — with July rising to $1.94 a bushel last week over November, its largest in this marketing year. So more volatility is expected during the coming week and through July 14 when CBOT July soybeans go off the board. ”As we get closer and closer to July delivery and fewer people in that spread, it has the potential to go really ballistic,” one cash-connected CBOT trader said.PHOTO: Newly emerged corn in north central Illinois.
Given the roller-coaster ride in Chicago grains last week as the dollar fell and rose, more volatility is likely in the coming week as investors weigh the health of the economy with the weather outside. Added to the mix will be the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s updated forecasts for the amount of grain and oilseeds left in storage bins this fall and a year from now. ”Last week has shown us the dramatic impact the dollar and crude has had on our markets. We’ll continue to watch those markets very carefully,” said Rich Feltes, senior vice president at MF Global Research. As the dollar sank to its lowest level in 2009 on optimism the global economy is on the road to recovery, managed money flowed back into commodities, including the grains, rallying corn, soybeans and wheat to eight-month highs. Demand for dollar-denominated commodities usually rises as the dollar falls. On the flip side, when the dollar rebounded on Friday, grain prices sank back on profit-taking. In the days ahead, aside from the dollar and other “outside” markets like Wall Street equities that will reflect sentiment about overall economic demand, grain traders will be focused on USDA’s monthly supply-and-demand report to be issued on Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Analysts polled by Reuters expected the government to trim its key numbers: projected end-season stockpiles for soybeans and corn. Given strong export demand over the past month, U.S. soy stocks could slip near 100 million bushels, the lowest supply seen since August 1977, before the new harvest. MOTHER NATURE ADDS PREMIUM TO CBOT GRAINSDryness in the northwestern Corn Belt — Minnesota, South Dakota, northern Nebraska — coupled with constant rains in the southeastern Corn Belt remain supportive to Chicago Board of Trade grains as farmers struggle to get their new crop seeded and established. The biggest worry is the shrinking window to plant corn in two key states — Illinois and Indiana — putting at least a million acres of expected corn production into a possible last-minute switch to soybeans, a faster maturing crop. Those two states, which produce a quarter of the American corn crop, had some 3.4 million acres of corn yet to plant last week at a time when all seedings are usually complete. Southern areas of the states were the furthest behind. USDA will issue its next crop progress report Monday afternoon.”Agronomically, farmers can plant corn in the southern part of the state until the end of the month. But we know that corn planted that late simply has a lower yield potential,” said Bob Nielsen, extension agronomist at Purdue University in Indiana. Farmers are now also bumping up against crop insurance deadlines, raising the stakes to make a firm decision. In Illinois and Indiana, June 5 was the deadline for farmers to decide whether to cash in full value on their insurance, plant corn, or switch to soybeans. Soybean farmers have until June 20. The northern Plains is another worry, plagued not only by saturated fields after spring floods but chilly temperatures, dipping to below freezing in recent days. That could mean replanting as well as lost acreage for the year.Photo: Newly emerged corn in field near Gilman, Illlinois.
It’s crunch time for corn.
Grain traders are anxiously waiting USDA’s weekly crop progress report late Monday as it will tell the story of how U.S. corn was planted this season.
As of May 24, American farmers still had 15 million corn acres of a projected 85 million yet to plant as heavy spring rains in the eastern Corn Belt delayed planting by at least 10 days to two weeks in many areas. Midwest acres seeded after mid-May usually lose more than a bushel a day on yield.
The U.S. crop planting gap between states east and west of the Mississippi River grew last week, with the east far behind, plagued by cloudy skies, chilly temperatures and several inches of rain in some spots.
The U.S. Agriculture Department reported late Monday that 48 percent of the corn crop was in the ground on Sunday, lagging the normal pace of 71 percent by the second week in May. Soybean planting was also slow — 14 percent seeded, versus the typical pace of 25 percent by now.
But soybeans can be planted into June, with only limited yield drag. That is not the case with corn as farmers have just another two weeks to plant corn without suffering too greatly on yields.
“This year is truly the year of the east versus the west,” said Don Roose, analyst with U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa. “Late planted years struggle with yield. Late planted years tend to have acreage switches” intended corn acres to soybeans.
East of the Mississippi River, big producers like Illinois and Indiana have a mere 10 to 11 percent of their corn seeded while states west of the river were nearly done. Farmers in the top corn-soy state of Iowa have 81 percent of their corn planted.
The three “I” states grow about 40 percent of the total U.S. corn crop.
The weather forecast does not offer much consolation to farmers in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri — all struggling with heavy rains. Off-and-on rains will move across the Corn Belt all week.
“It is looking like a very wet week coming up — not enough periods of drier, warmer weather to allow farmers to get out there and plant this crop, especially in the eastern belt,” DTN Meteorlogix forecast Mike Palmerino said.
The National Weather Service has issued flood warnings along the Mississippi, Ohio, Wabash and White Rivers.
Photo: Northern Illinois field taken May 10 by Chris Stebbins. Illinois corn and soybean planting is lagging historical averages due to a wet, cool spring.