U.S. grains: Soy declines, corn firms as China deal’s terms awaited

Chicago | Reuters — U.S. soybean futures declined on Monday on favourable crop weather in South America and position-squaring as traders waited to see if a U.S.-Chinese trade agreement due to be signed this week will herald a significant increase in demand for U.S. crops.

Wheat futures also fell, down from multi-month highs set last week, while corn futures rose, with the most-active March contract reaching a one-week top as brokers covered short positions.

Chicago Board of Trade March soybean futures settled down 3-3/4 cents at $9.42-1/4 per bushel. March wheat ended down 2-1/4 cents at $5.62-1/4, and March corn finished up 3-3/4 cents at $3.89-1/2 a bushel.

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China’s Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington to sign the so-called Phase One trade accord with the United States, with a ceremony scheduled for Wednesday.

The agreement, first announced a month ago, helped CBOT soybeans rally to their highest since June 2018 at the start of January as it raised hopes that China, the world’s biggest soybean importer, would revive imports of U.S. supplies.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday reiterated Washington’s position that China has committed to increase purchases of U.S. agricultural products to $40 billion-$50 billion annually. But a lack of detail on the accord has made some traders cautious.

“It’s ‘wait-and-see’ until Wednesday, and we see what the trade agreement brings to the market. In the meantime, we are not doing much of anything. There is not a lot of trade (and) volumes are light,” said Terry Linn, analyst with Linn and Associates, a Chicago brokerage.

Beneficial weekend rains in Brazil’s crop belt weighed on CBOT futures by fueling expectations of a large South American soy harvest, Linn said, adding that Brazil’s currency hit a one-month low, encouraging Brazilian farmers to sell dollar-denominated soybeans.

“You’ve got some negative things in background, but the Phase One trade deal is giving some underlying support,” Linn said.

Wheat slipped on profit-taking after the CBOT March contract on Friday reached $5.68-1/2, the contract’s highest in six months. However, rising global cash wheat prices lent underlying support.

After the CBOT close, Egypt’s General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC) set a tender to buy an unspecified amount of wheat from global suppliers for shipment from March 1 to 10. Tender results were expected on Tuesday.

Corn bucked the weak trend, with futures rising on technical buying and optimism about how the U.S.-China trade deal might affect exports. Commodity funds hold a net short position in CBOT corn futures, leaving the market vulnerable to bouts of short-covering.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Friday raised its U.S. 2019 corn and soybean yield estimates, which surprised some traders following unfavourable crop weather last year and a challenging harvest.

However, the government agency said it would resurvey farmers in five northern states where poor weather left many acres unharvested.

— Julie Ingwersen is a Reuters commodities correspondent in Chicago; additional reporting by Gus Trompiz in Paris and Naveen Thukral in Singapore.

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