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GRAIN MARKETS: Grain prices immobile ahead of next USDA reports

Markets await "Crop Progress" and WASDE updates before making move.

By Ben Potter

Most grain futures shifted 1 cent or less ahead of two influential and anticipated U.S. Department of Agriculture reports: Tuesday afternoon’s "Crop Progress" report and Thursday morning’s "World Agricultural Supply & Demand Estimates" (WASDE) report. Corn, soybeans and Chicago, Ill., soft red wheat prices shifted down slightly, with Kansas City, Mo., hard red wheat prices taking a small gain.

Inclement weather may be slowing the 2017 harvest, but by how much? On Tuesday, rain fell across the "I" states and other key grain production areas. Looking further ahead to seven-day forecasting models, most of the Midwest will see some amount of measurable rainfall between now and Oct. 17. Just as wet weather has put the brakes on part of the U.S. harvest, dry weather is slowing down some of Brazil’s planting season. The delays are significant enough that grain production there could drop by as much as 6%.

Make coal great again? The Environmental Protection Agency has formally announced its proposal to repeal the CleanPower Plan, which it says exceeds the agency’s authority. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt also proposed to eliminate tax incentives for the wind industry on Monday. In other energy news, crude oil was trading more than $1 higher and back over $50 per barrel on “rebalancing” effort news. Gasoline and diesel prices followed suit, posting moderate gains. The Dow was up another 42 points in midafternoon trading to 22,753.

Corn prices climbed about 2 cents higher in midmorning trading before settling back close to Monday’s close, with December futures finally losing 0.25 cents to close at $3.4925. March 2018 futures finished the day unchanged at $3.6275.

Corn tallied another 20.6 million bushels in export inspections. That’s down from last week’s totals of 33.6 million bushels, and it came in under the average trade guess of 25 to 33 million bushels. So far for the 2017/18 marketing year (which began September 1), total export inspections are 139 million bushels – well behind 2016/17’s year-to-date tally of 273 million bushels. 

Ahead of the next USDA Crop Progress report, due out later this afternoon, a group of 13 industry analysts predict the percent of corn rated good-to-excellent will remain unchanged, at 63%. The analysts also predict that corn harvest is now 27% complete, up from 17% a week ago and behind the 2016 pace of 35%. Farm Futures, which participates in these surveys, has estimated a 63% good-to-excellent rating and harvest pace of 25%.

France may be hauling in a bigger corn crop in 2017. The country raised its yield forecasts to 511.8 million bushels, up from previous production estimates of 501.9 million bushels. This year’s corn harvest is expected to be about 11% larger than in 2016.

Preliminary volume estimates were for 135,729 contracts, down from Monday’s total of 154,487.

Soybean prices stuck with corn’s “wait and see” approach, with only minor price changes to end the day. November futures dropped 0.75 cents to close at $9.66, while January 2018 prices lost a penny to close at $9.7625. 

Ahead of the next USDA Crop Progress report, a group of industry analysts is predicting the U.S. soybean crop’s good-to-excellent rating will remain unchanged, at 60%. The analysts also estimate this year’s soybean harvest is now 38% complete, up from 22% last week but behind last year’s pace of 44%. Farm Futures, which participates in these surveys, estimates a soybean good-to-excellent rating of 61% and a harvest that’s 34% complete.

For the week ending October 5, soybean export inspections managed to bounce back from underperforming volume the week prior and overshoot trade expectations (33 to 44 million bushels), landing at 54.6 million bushels. That kept 2017/18 total volume slightly ahead of the pace of 2016/17 and the five-year average, with 201 million total bushels.

Private exporters reported the sale of 4.81 million bushels of soybeans for delivery to China during the 2017/18 marketing year, which began September 1.

Preliminary volume estimates were down from Monday’s total of 199,502 contracts, with 177,386.

Wheat prices continue to fight large global supplies, with the U.S. competing for lower-priced wheat elsewhere around the world. Prices still managed to hang on for mixed results Tuesday, with December SRW futures sliding 0.75 cents to close at $4.3525, and December Kansas City HRW futures picked up 0.75 cents to close at $4.3150. MGEX Spring Wheat, meantime, continued its modest slide that has been moderately consistent since mid-September. December futures dropped another 5.75 cents to close at $6.1725.

Ahead of the next USDA Crop Progress report, a group of industry analysts estimates the 2017/18 winter wheat crop planting is 49% complete, up from 36% last week but behind last year’s pace of 59%. 

Wheat remains slightly behind 2016/17 year-to-date export inspections, tallying another 12.9 million bushels for the week ending October 5. That was less than half the volume of the week prior, and it also fell below the average trade guess of 14 to 22 million bushels. Year-to-date volume for the 2017/18 marketing year (which began June 1) is up to 379 million bushels, down from 2016/17’s pace of 389 million bushels. With a few exceptions, week-to-week results have been below 2016/17 as well as the five-year average.

Russia has a 146.9 million bushel grain stockpile and plans to sell more than a third of it during the 2017/18 marketing year (which runs through May 31, 2018). The country’s Agriculture Ministry announced it will sell around 55.1 million bushels this year to increase storage space and reduce current storage costs on its current stockpile.

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