U.S. grains: Corn ends higher as USDA tightens domestic stocks forecast

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Chicago | Reuters – U.S. corn futures closed modestly higher on Thursday after the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lowered its estimates of corn yield, production and ending stocks more than most analysts expected, traders said.

Soybean futures fell after the USDA slashed its U.S. soy export forecast, but pared losses toward the close. Wheat futures declined.

Chicago Board of Trade December corn settled up 1-1/4 cents at $3.73-1/2 per bushel after dipping to $3.66, its lowest since Nov. 2.

CBOT January soybeans ended down 1/2 cent at $8.79 a bushel while CBOT December soft red winter wheat finished down 2-1/2 cents at $5.07-3/4.

All three markets tumbled after the USDA in a monthly supply/demand report nearly doubled its forecast of 2018-19 world corn ending stocks, to 307.51 million tonnes, from 159.35 million last month.

The change reflected a huge increase in the USDA’s estimate of Chinese corn stocks following revisions by the Chinese government.

However, analysts noted that the bulk of China’s grain stocks are unavailable to the global market.

CBOT corn rallied as traders shifted their focus to the USDA’s expectations for tightening U.S. corn supplies.

“If you strip China out … this was a friendly corn report,” said Mike Zuzolo of Global Commodity Analytics. “The market has assumed that for China, their corn stocks are off the books for them,” Zuzolo said.

Domestically, the USDA cut its forecast of U.S. 2018-19 corn ending stocks to 1.736 billion bushels, from 1.813 billion in October.

The government also cut its U.S. corn yield estimate to 178.9 bushels per acre, from 180.7.

Some analysts warned of possible further reductions following a rain-slowed harvest.

“History tells you the odds are pretty good of seeing another cut in January,” said Terry Linn, analyst with Linn & Associates.

CBOT soybeans notched a one-week low after the USDA raised its U.S. 2018-19 ending stocks forecast to 955 million bushels, from 885 million previously.

The increase reflected a 160 million-bushel drop in the USDA’s soybean export forecast amid reduced sales to top global buyer China, a country that is locked in a trade battle with Washington.

The hefty stocks figure overshadowed a cut in the USDA’s soy yield estimate to 52.1 bushels per acre, from 53.1 last month.

“Even if (U.S. President) Trump and China get a deal done, it will take time to gear up moving those soybeans out, and (the) South American crop will be ready in January. Frankly, U.S. farmers are screwed,” said Bob Utterback, president of Utterback Marketing.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping plan to meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina at the end of November and early December.

– Additional reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago

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