U.S. corn hits record on eve of key crop report

U.S. corn rose one per cent to a record high on Thursday and new-crop soybeans rose three per cent a day ahead of a key U.S. government report that’s expected to slash production estimates due to damage from the worst drought in 56 years.

"People are putting risk premium back in ahead of the USDA report tomorrow. Early corn yields are making shorts very nervous. There are a lot of sub-100 bushel yields reported and that makes people fear the worst," said Dan Cekander, an analyst for Newedge USA.

A Reuters poll of 21 analysts this week pegged the U.S. corn yield at 127 bushels per acre, the lowest since 1997, with production at a six-year low.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) August crop report, to be released at 7:30 a.m. CDT on Friday, has taken on extra importance since the department’s estimates will be based on surveys of farmers and its own experts inspecting fields for the first time since the drought began to rally prices in mid-June.

New-crop December corn futures rose to $8.29-3/4 per bushel, the highest price ever for a Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) corn futures contract and above the previous record of $8.28-3/4 that was set by the spot September contract three weeks ago (all figures US$).

CBOT September corn settled up 7-1/2 cents per bushel at $8.18-1/4 and new-crop December ended up 7-1/4 cents at $8.23-3/4.

Most-active November soybeans rose 50 cents to $16.31-1/4 per bushel and September wheat ended up 13-3/4 cents at $9.13 a bushel.

Traders were moving or rolling long holdings in front-month September corn into the December and other new-crop contracts, in step with the periodic rolling of positions undertaken by a Goldman Sachs index fund.

The rolling has lifted December to a nearly five cents-per-bushel premium to September, in sharp contrast to December’s steep discount to September earlier in the summer.

"The Goldman roll started Tuesday, you have that going on and the report is tomorrow. Everyone is expecting the corn number to be pretty friendly," a CBOT trader said.

Chinese soy demand

Soybeans posted the biggest percentage gains on the CBOT, led by confirmation of fresh sales of U.S. soybeans to China, the world’s top soy buyer, and by expectations of further Chinese demand at a time of uncertain U.S. supplies.

"Beans continue to be driven higher by more new-crop sales to China," Cekander said.

The U.S. government on Thursday said China bought 165,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans, boosting China’s total purchases for the week to 271,000 tonnes.

Export traders said China may have purchased five to 10 cargoes of U.S. soybeans on Thursday for September through December shipment. Each cargo of soybeans holds 55,000 tonnes.

The spot CIF basis for soybean barges at the U.S. Gulf jumped to a three-year peak as exporters scrambled for nearby supplies.

The flurry of Chinese buying came after most-active CBOT November soybean futures fell five per cent last week, pressured by recent rains and moderating temperatures in the U.S. Midwest that boosted prospects for late-planted soybeans.

Global soy supplies are already tight after a drought slashed South American soy production, steering more export demand to the United States. Moves in CBOT soybean options underscored the bullish sentiment, with traders buying $20 November soybean calls.

"This bean situation has been critical all along because of strong demand and the drought in South America," one floor trader said.

Too late for corn

Analysts said anecdotal accounts from the corn harvest of the first few fields in scattered areas of the U.S. Midwest show yields coming in low. The region accounts for 75 per cent of all the corn and soybeans grown in the U.S.

Modest amounts of rainfall in portions of the Midwest this week will provide only minimal relief from drought, an agricultural meteorologist said.

"There will be some improvement, the cooler temperatures certainly will help. But most of the Midwest has not had enough rain for significant improvement," said Andy Karst, a meteorologist for World Weather Inc.

"Crops may stabilize or decline a little more the next couple of weeks," he added.

Rainfall this week totaled 0.25 to one inch and was scattered over about half of the Midwest, but only about 25 per cent received the heavier amount.

"There will be better rains today in the eastern Corn Belt, and the good news is that high temperatures the next couple of weeks will be in the 70s to 80s F rather than 100 F," Karst said.

But "certainly no drought-busting rains," he stressed.

Wheat rose more than one per cent in step with corn and soy and on crop worries in Russia’s lush Black Sea wheat growing belt.

Dry weather has also cast a shadow over grains production in Eastern Europe, while the monsoon season in India, crucial to the populous country’s agricultural sector, has been weak.

— Julie Ingwersen and Sam Nelson report on ag commodity markets for Reuters in Chicago. Additional reporting by Michael Hogan in Hamburg, Colin Packham in Sydney and Karl Plume in Chicago.

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