U.S. grain traders turn focus to South America

November 30, 2008

Now that the U.S. harvest is over Chicago grain traders have turned their attention to South America where farmers are busy planting corn and soybeans.
    Argentina and Brazil toppled the United States a few years ago as the top exporters of soybeans, representing 49 percent of the world’s soy trade this past season versus the United States at 40 percent. But Brazilian plantings are expected to be down this year as credit pressures are deterring farmers from planting more.
    The world grain trade is counting on South America to produce big soybean crops this season — taking up some of the slack from the United States where soy stocks have slipped to historically low levels given strong demand and a short crop in 2007.
    Dryness in Argentina raised crop concerns and underpinned Chicago Board of Trade grain and oilseed prices early last week. But as the No. 3 soy exporter saw scattered rains, worries eased and the focus turned to southern Brazil.
    Parana and Rio Grande do Sul, the second and third largest Brazilian soy states, are the driest. Both are expected to see light, scattered showers by Tuesday.
    “That rain next week is going to be an important event,” said Mike Palmerino, DTN Meteorlogix forecaster.
    While South America needs rain, Australia is for once struggling with too much. Farmers are trying to put away this year’s wheat crop but constant rains have stalled their efforts and likely reducing the quality of the crop.
    More poor quality wheat will only add to already big global supplies of feed wheat, which is cutting into demand for U.S. corn. Export sales of corn have been under 500,000 tonnes for the past five weeks and off to their slowest pace since 2002. U.S. corn exports last season totaled nearly 62 million tonnes, or 65 percent of the global corn exports.
    The final U.S. government supply-and-demand report of the year will be issued on Dec. 11, with many analysts expecting USDA to shave its 2008/09 U.S. corn export figure to reflect the slowed pace. But traders will have to wait until USDA’s Jan. 12 crop report for final 2008 production numbers.
    While the supply outlook is having a little more play on CBOT prices, the global economic slowdown is hurting employment and food spending and will undoubtedly continue to loom over the markets.
    Grains and oilseeds have traded sideways for weeks as investors moved to the sidelines, unwilling to take on fresh  positions. Cash grain traders are also still finding it tough to finance purchases from farmers amid continued tight or frozen credit markets.
    “We are in the de-leveraging process,” one CBOT cash-connected trader said this week. “No reason to think that will change before year’s end, especially as the markets move into their annual slow holiday period.”
    But grain traders in the coming week will still keep an eye on Wall Street for economic signs.
    Weekend retail sales following the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, typically the biggest shopping period of the year will be one key economic indicator. More critical will be the government’s November jobs report, issued on Friday, which will likely provide more evidence of a deep economic downturn and possible additional interest rate cuts, which grain traders always welcome.

PHOTO: U.S. corn harvest wrapped up for 2008. Corn field in southern Wisconsin taken Nov. 29 by Chris Stebbins.

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