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GRAIN MARKETS: Soybeans falter to new February lows

U.S. 2017 acres and big South American crops weigh on prices.

Grain futures closed mixed on Thursday, with liquidation noted in soybeans following bearish news on acreage and South American supplies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture updated its acreage and cash price projections for 2017 on the opening day of its annual Outlook Forum, reminding traders about large supplies still hanging over corn, soybeans and wheat. More details, included complete supply and demand forecasts, are expected to be released early Friday morning.

U.S. stock markets overcame mixed trade overseas to post new record highs in the Dow and S&P, although other indexes eased. A weaker dollar helped spur buying in gold, with crude oil moving back above $54 a barrel. Stocks built to another record last week, but the increase was relatively modest, just one-tenth of 1%. Nationwide diesel supplies were down sharply, falling 4.5 million barrels and sending Midwest wholesale diesel costs up about 3 cents/gal.

Corn prices posted losses, after attempts to firm in the first hour of trading Thursday morning fell apart. That pressured March to new two-week lows and a test of its 200-day moving average.

USDA kept its forecast of 2017 corn acreage at 90 million, the same as its first guess in November. The agency’s projection of average cash prices improved 20 cents to $3.50/bu., in line with the most recent forecast.

Better demand is slowly whittling away at inventories, though they remain around 2.3 billion bu. While ethanol production was 6,000 barrels a day lower last week, output remains strong, and supplies posted only a small increase. Basis firmed at ethanol plants this week as margins remain decent. For more, see the latest Basis Review.

Export business remains good, but larger supplies out of Argentina could provide more competition. The government there put the crop around 135 million bushels ahead of USDA’s last estimate, though the forecast at the Buenos Aires Grain Exchange is only slightly higher than USDA.

Export sales out Friday due to the Presidents Day holiday could come top 50 million bushels of old and new crop bookings.

Soybeans broke hard today, with large South American supplies and potential for a big acreage increase this spring weighing on prices. March futures broke below its 200-day moving average early and wiped out its Feb. 1 low with double digit losses before firming a little on the close. That suggests weakness could persist into the end of the month or early March. With March options going off the board Friday, the nearby could take a run at the $10 strike price if selling doesn’t dry up.

USDA raised its early forecast of 2017 acres to 88 million, a record if achieved. While the guess, made with statistics, was below our January survey total of 90.5 million, it was up 2.5 million from the agency’s first take in November. Average cash prices for the crop were put at $9.60, up 25 cents from November.

While processor basis mostly firmed this week, bids elsewhere eased, reflecting export demand that’s starting to weaken seasonally. Some local forecasts of the crop in Brazil are 140 million bushels above USDA’s estimate earlier this month, also weighing on sentiment. Total old and new crop sales are expected to slip to between 30 million and 35 million bushels in Friday’s weekly update. 

Wheat prices closed mixed on Wednesday, with Minneapolis again proving resilient. Spring wheat basis firmed this week and demand remains good, while hard red winter wheat also firmed on the close.

USDA today put all-wheat acres at 46 million, down from 50.1 million in November after growers slashed winter wheat seedings to the lowest level since 1909. That suggests numbers close to our January survey for spring wheat and durum, which we put at 11 million and 2.3 million bu., respectively. The agency put the average cash price for the crop at $4.30, right in line with the forecast we’ve been using this winter.

Hard red winter wheat may finally be finding some concern due to weather. The latest vegetation maps from Kansas State University show most of the country well ahead of average for this time of year due to warm February weather. That could put crops at risk from frost in April if they green up too fast.

Rain on the southern Plains also is expected to be limited over the next week, perhaps longer.

Export sales reported Friday for last week may slip below 20 million bushels, as demand remains modest. Without a surge in sales it’s hard to make a bullish case for wheat into 2018.

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