Soy rises 10th day, wheat firms on exports

U.S. soybeans advanced for the 10th session in a row on Friday and hit a fresh five-month high, buoyed by growing export demand and a forecast by a closely watched analytical firm for lower soybean production in Brazil.

Surging soymeal futures, which have climbed for eight straight sessions, also supported soybeans as larger U.S. soy exports would leave fewer supplies for domestic soybean crushers. Wheat futures rose, rebounding from two days of declines and surging to their highs late in the session, following Thursday's rare export sale to Iran.

Each contract reversed course after opening lower, bucking pressure from the dollar as it climbed to its highest level in two weeks against a basket of global currencies. A strong dollar makes commodities priced in the greenback less attractive to importers.

Actively traded May soybeans settled 10-1/2 cents higher at $13.33 per bushel, gaining more than 3 percent for the week in the biggest weekly increase since October. "Strong export demand keeps surprising us every week," Citigroup analyst Terry Reilly said. "The shorts don't want to get into the market until there's a hint of a reversal, but many traders aren't looking for a reversal."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture early on Friday said private exporters sold 285,000 tonnes of soybeans to an unknown buyer. The sales came in the wake of last week's second-largest-ever soybean purchase by No. 1 importer China. Analytics firm Informa Economics slashed its forecast for the Brazilian soy crop to 68 million tonnes, from its previous estimate of 70 million tonnes, trade sources said.

"Informa is what really turned this market around," said Mike Zuzolo, analyst at Global Commodity Analytics. "Traders got disappointed in the price action and Informa brought the bulls back in and forced the shorts to cover."

USDA will update its own production estimates in a monthly supply-and-demand report due next Friday. Reilly expects the government to raise its estimates for soy exports and for the domestic soy crush.

Growing export demand and lower production helped soybean futures in February to post their largest monthly gain in more than a year. Soymeal futures have gained even further, rising nearly 16 percent so far this year on increasing competition in U.S. cash markets. Wheat futures were propped up by Iran's first purchase of U.S. wheat in three years, announced by USDA on Thursday. CBOT May wheat settled 10-1/2 cents higher at $6.74-1/2 per bushel, rising about 5 percent for the week in the largest weekly gain in a month.

CBOT May corn traded in positive and negative territory, settling 1 cent higher at $6.55 per bushel and gaining about 1.5 percent for the week. Commodity investment funds were said to have bought 3,000 contracts each of corn and wheat and 6,000 soybean contracts.

Iran's purchase of U.S. wheat -- 120,000 tonnes, enough to fill two large cargo ships -- came in an effort to build food stockpiles as the United States and Europe enforce tough new sanctions to contain Tehran's nuclear ambitions. U.S. wheat is facing stiff competition in the global market from cheaper alternatives such as grain grown in the Black Sea region.

"From a prices perspective it was not surprising. U.S. wheat is the cheapest at the moment. From a political perspective, it was a surprise," a French trader said of Iran's purchase.

Weather remained in focus in Europe. After reports this week of significant winter damage to wheat in eastern France, operators were being more cautious and waiting for clearer indications about how much area was affected and could be resown with spring crops. Traders were also keeping an eye on the situation in Ukraine where severe cold has hit transportation. Grain exports from that country fell by about 25 percent in February to 1.7 million tonnes.

"If the weather improved in Ukraine and the transport situation is resolved, wheat prices on European markets could fall," an Italian trader said.

Hot and dry weather throughout the growing season has curtailed crop production in Brazil and Argentina, putting a premium on supplies being held by U.S. farmers since last fall's harvest.

(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral in Singapore, Svetlana Kovalyova in in Milan andGus Trompiz in Paris; Editing by Jim Marshall and Dale Hudson)