Sluggish exports weigh on grains

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Corn futures are 1-5 cents lower at midsession. Futures drifted lower following disappointing weekly export sales. Net sales for the current marketing year were only 9.3 million bushels. Trade estimates were about 20 million bushels. After sales of 30 million bushels the previous week, expectations for exports have ramped up. The outside markets are stronger which is providing underlying support for corn. More rain fell overnight in central Argentina and forecasts for the next week look too wet for corn planting to move to completion. First notice day for December corn futures is Friday. No deliveries are expected. December corn is 5 cents lower at $7.55 1/4. March is 4 1/2 cents lower at $7.59 1/2.

Soybean prices were a few cents higher and well off their strongest gains in mid morning trading. The January contract had reached a daily high of $14.60, up over 13 cents, but selling pressure had driven that contract back to a mid morning gain of 2 3/4 cents at $14.49. The new-crop November 2013 contract also registered a modest gain of 1 cent at $13.06. USDA issued its weekly export sales report and the new bean sales totaled only 11.7 million bushels, about half of expectations. Bulls were still emphasizing planting concerns in Argentina where the forecast maps project more near-term difficulties probable from too much rain.

Wheat futures have given up early morning gains and moved to the minus side in midday trade. Today’s weekly export sales report is another disappointing week. There is still a 220 million bu. gap between wheat sales year-to-date and where they “should” be based on the 5-year history of sales to date versus end-of-year total on May 31. It’s raising odds USDA will have to lower its U.S. export forecast again in the December WASDE update. The early week enthusiasm over rumored export business to Brazil has run its course. There’s still “some” underlying bullish support due to ongoing dry weather in the U.S. central and southwestern Plains as well as concern for dryness in southeastern Europe, the lower Volga River Basin and “some” locations in France. But as the crop enters dormancy and USDA has suspended weekly crop condition reports, even that becomes “iffy” support for prices going forward. At midsession, CBOT March wheat is down 4 ½ at $8.86 ¾; KCBT March is down 3 at $9.33 ¼ and MGE March is down 1 at $9.51 ¾.

Live cattle futures are a little higher. Futures are higher mainly on optimism that the fiscal cliff can be avoided. The outside markets are providing a boost. Beef prices were higher on Wednesday, but concern about beef demand lingers. Weekly beef export sales were disappointing at 11,800 MT, down 23% from the previous week and 22% below the four week average. February cattle are 27 cents higher at $131.87.

Lean hog futures are higher at midday Thursday. The rally in hog futures is continuing this morning as due to strength in the cash market. Cash hog prices have increased by about $4 per cwt over the past week and early reports indicate higher bids again on Thursday. Retail demand for hams for the holiday is strong, and packers are willing to boost bids to get the hogs they need. However, packer margins are narrowing as the increases in cash hog prices are larger than the increases in pork prices. The real test will come in a couple of weeks, when the strong holiday related demand begins to back off. The February contract is very close to $88 per cwt at midday.

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