Chicago | Reuters –– U.S. wheat futures touched their highest level in more than a week on Friday as escalating tensions in Ukraine heightened fears of supply disruptions and forecasts for drier-than-expected weather fueled concerns about crop damage in the U.S. Plains.
Soybean and soybean meal futures rallied on chart-based buying and fears about tightening near-term supplies after prices softened earlier this week on Chinese cancellations of import deals.
Demand expectations increased after trading house Bunge Ltd. said poor soy crushing margins that have led China to default on soybean purchases should improve in two to three months. China is the world’s top importer of the oilseed.
U.S. processors were still scrambling to find soy to crush, lifting soymeal and soybeans, traders said.
“The reality is that the basis level is above the futures market on the meal, and that’s still driving us gangbusters,” said Jerry Gidel, chief feed grains analyst for Rice Dairy.
Investors rebuilt bull spreads in the soybean market in which they bought nearby soybean contracts and sold deferred contracts.
Chicago Board of Trade May soybeans climbed 26 cents, or 1.8 per cent, to $14.98 a bushel (all figures US$). May soymeal gained $10.40, or 2.2 per cent, to $490.60 per ton.
Commodity funds bought an estimated 9,000 soybean contracts, 7,000 corn contracts and 5,000 wheat contracts, traders said.
Renewed tensions in Ukraine, a major grain exporter, helped rally the grain markets after wheat futures fell at the beginning of the week on expectations that rain would bring relief to dry areas of the U.S. southern Plains.
Russia warned Kiev on Friday that it would face justice for a “bloody crime” in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces killed up to five pro-Russian rebels.
“The whole thing makes traders nervous,” said Tomm Pfitzenmaier, analyst at Summit Commodity Brokerage.
CBOT May wheat jumped 11-1/4 cents, or 1.6 per cent, to $7.00-1/4 a bushel, its highest since April 16. CBOT May corn rose 5-3/4 cents, or 1.2 per cent, to $5.07.
Adding support to wheat prices were forecasts showing less-than-expected rain for key growing areas, said Joe Vaclavik, president of Standard Grain. Western portions of the Plains in particular were slated to remain dry, he added, noting that an annual wheat tour in Kansas should reveal details about damage to the crop.
“Results are not expected to be good given recent weather patterns and prolonged drought throughout much of the country’s largest wheat-producing state,” Vaclavik said.
The International Grains Council said on Friday it had revised down its 2014-15 global wheat and corn production forecasts.
Weather worries lifted corn prices as cool, wet conditions have slowed planting in the U.S. Midwest.
“There has been some activity this week in areas that missed rains, but not enough to catch this year’s pace up to the national average,” said Brian Hoops, president of Midwest Market Solutions, about planting.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, in a weekly report April 21, said six per cent of the corn crop was planted, below the 9 per cent expected by analysts and the average of 14 per cent for that time of year. The next update is due at 3 p.m. CT on Monday.
— Tom Polansek reports on agriculture and commodities for Reuters from Chicago. Additional reporting for Reuters by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Manolo Serapio Jr. in Singapore.