Markets strengthen on positioning before USDA release

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U.S. grain and soybean futures rose on Thursday, with corn reaching a one-week high on the eve of crop reports that are expected to show drops in U.S. production and global inventories.

Traders were evening up positions in corn, soybeans and wheat amid expectations that the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports will spark sharp price swings, traders said. The USDA will issue a slew of data on global supply and demand, U.S. corn and soy production, quarterly U.S. grain inventories, and U.S. winter wheat plantings at 11 a.m. Central (17 00 GMT) on Friday.

"We're going to see a lot of positioning and posturing" in the markets before the reports are issued, said Tim Hannagan, grain specialist at Alpari.

Chicago Board of Trade corn for March delivery rose 3-1/2 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $6.97-3/4 a bushel at 10 a.m. Central ( 1600 GMT).

March wheat climbed 6-1/2 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $7.52, and March soybeans gained 3-1/2 cents, or 0.3 percent to $13.89.

Corn and wheat traded at six-month lows last week following a year-end sell-off, but attention has turned back to supportive fundamentals in the run-up to the USDA's crop estimates, traders said.

Corn has swung by the maximum daily trading limit six years in a row on the day of the department's January announcements In its final report on 2012 U.S. crop production, USDA is expected to estimate last year's drought-hit corn crop at a six-year low.

Spot basis bids for corn held at historically high levels for this time of year, supported by thinned stockpiles and slow farmer sales.

"Technically corn is looking the best as it has bounced from lows, and the supply pipeline is quite tight," said Victor Thianpiriya, an agricultural strategist at ANZ in Singapore.

DEMAND NIBBLING

Demand news did not help give prices much of a boost. Egypt, the world's biggest importer of wheat, bought 55,0000 tonnes of U.S. wheat and 60,000 tonnes of Canadian wheat for shipment Feb 20-28.

Egypt is just "nibbling" at global wheat supplies with the small purchases, Hannagan said.

Private exporters reported three soybean sales totaling 587,500 tonnes to top importer China and unknown destinations, with 246,000 tonnes the USDA for delivery in the next marketing year, according to USDA.

The announcement helped counteract disappointment with weekly export sales data issued on Thursday.

USDA said soybean and wheat sales last week fell to nine-week lows of 406,800 tonne and 233,800 tonnes, respectively. Corn sales of 1,000 tonnes last week were a 15-week low.

"Corn sales were a net zero last week as new bookings were negated with cancellations," said Karl Setzer, grain solutions team leader for MaxYield Cooperative. "Global corn demand cannot be called poor right now because there simply isn't any business being done."


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