CORN MARKET SPOOKED BY YIELD REPORTS
December 2002 corn futures established a contract
high of $2.96 on September 9, 2002. The USDA reports released on
September 12 contained a smaller forecast of the 2002 U.S. corn
crop (down 37 million bushels from the August forecast), a smaller
forecast of foreign coarse grain production, and a smaller forecast
of U.S. and world grain inventories at the end of the current marketing
year. Since those smaller forecasts were released, December corn
futures have declined $.31.
A number of factors may have contributed to the
decline, but liquidation of long positions held by speculative traders
has been one of the dominant factors pressuring prices. The liquidation
appears to have been triggered by reports of "better than expected"
yields. It is never clear whose expectations have been exceeded,
but the reports have resulted in ideas that the USDA's October production
forecast may exceed the September forecast, as was the case last
In addition to thoughts that the U.S. crop could
exceed the current projection, the slow start to the 2002-03 export
program raises concerns about corn demand. As of September 12, the
USDA reported 2002-03 marketing year export commitments at 303 million
bushels. That figure is about 8 percent smaller than export commitments
on the same date last year. The USDA has projected that exports
during the current marketing year will be 100 million bushels larger
than exports of last year. Compared to last year, smaller sales
have been registered to Egypt, Taiwan, South Korea, and China. Prospects
for a larger Chinese corn harvest creates concerns about Asian demand
for U.S. corn.
Recent price behavior in the corn market is a reminder
that U.S. and world feed grain supplies are smaller than a year
ago, but little, if any, rationing of use may be required. The primary
function of the market is to encourage additional production in
2003. Current new crop price relationships are slightly in favor
of additional corn acreage in the U.S. in 2003.
November 2002 soybean futures reached a high of
$5.91 on September 11. The USDA's September 12 reports contained
larger forecasts (compared to the August forecasts) of U.S. and
world soybean production and stocks for the 2002-03 marketing year.
Since the forecasts were released, November futures have declined
about $.24. While the forecasts suggest that use of U.S. soybeans
will have to decline during the current marketing year, world supplies
are expected to be adequate to allow for increased consumption.
The USDA currently projects a 3.3 percent increase in world soybean
consumption. The increase is expected to come primarily in South
America and China. The South American increase reflects expectations
of a larger crush, primarily to meet export demand for soybean meal.
China is expected to import 36 percent more soybeans than last year
in order to expand the domestic crush to support increases in domestic
meal and oil consumption.
U.S. soybean exports during 2002-03 are projected
to be 215 million bushels (20 percent) less than exports during
the past marketing year. As of September 12, the USDA reported that
export commitments for the current marketing year totaled 240 million
bushels. Commitments are nearly 5 percent larger than on the same
date last year and account for slightly over 28 percent of the USDA's
projection for the year. New sales need to average only 12 million
bushel per week for the next 50 weeks to reach the USDA's projected
level of exports. At 62 million bushels, current outstanding sales
to China are nearly double the level of sales of a year ago. On
the other hand, sales to the European Union (EU), the largest buyer
of U.S. soybeans, total only 19 million bushels. Sales to the EU
are down by two-thirds from sales of a year ago. The EU is currently
buying larger quantities of South American soybeans.
Early season reports on U.S. soybean yields have
not been as numerous as corn yield reports. Early results apparently
do not differ significantly from expectations.
In spite of strong market signals to the contrary,
reports suggest that producers are not rushing to sell corn at harvest
time. If the crop size forecast does increase, higher prices will
have to be generated by demand or concerns about next year's crop.
If consumption unfolds as projected, it will be difficult for prices
to move a lot higher before next spring. With use as projected,
higher prices in the near term may require an unchanged or smaller
crop forecast in October.
Soybean prices will be influenced by a wide range
of factors, including subsequent U.S. crop forecasts, rate of use,
and prospects for the South American crop. The most important factor
near term will be the USDA's October production forecast for the
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