Sideways prices

Grain prices the first two weeks of January were stellar — stellarly boring and sideways. The trend of prices moving lower last fall did not change. The past two months there has been a lot of negative news in the market. However, there was some friendly news with the Jan. 12 USDA crop report. There were many important numbers from that report in the biggest report day for the year on grains. They included final 2015 U.S. corn and soybean production and yields, U.S. winter wheat acres, quarterly grains stocks as of Dec. 1, as well as the monthly supply and demand tables and ending stocks.

Many had expected reports that day would be bearish. Funds were short grains and added to shorts the previous month. USDA estimated the final 2015 U.S. corn production at 13.601 billion bushels, down 53 million bushels from the previous report. The U.S. corn yield was 168.4 bushels per acre, down nearly one bushel from earlier estimates.

Still a little puzzling was the Ohio corn yield at 153 bushels per acre, down 10 bushels from earlier estimates. Unfortunately northwestern and western Ohio with poor yields in many areas pulled the state corn yield down. Others around the state enjoyed great yields with numerous reports of record or near record corn yields. While Dec. 1 U.S. corn stocks were a record, those bushels were below trade expectations. Even with corn ending stocks increasing, it did not spur on new selling. In spite of the negative mentality heading into the report, corn was able to close five cents higher on the day. The combination of lower production, less than expected quarterly inventory numbers, along with sellers losing control, were all positives for the day.

Grains, simply put, are in a sideways to lower mode at mid-January. Corn is deeply rutted in a range of $3.50 to $3.90, soybeans have a range of $8.50 to $9.00, and wheat is between $4.55 and $5. Why? The U.S. is losing the battle on grain exports. Through earlier January, U.S. soybean exports were 1.066 billion bushels, down 135 million bushels from the previous year. U.S. corn exports were 395 million bushels, down 102 million bushels. The U.S. is in strong competition for corn exports with Brazil, Argentina, and others. Even more revealing of the uphill battle to capture exports is world corn exports are projected to decline 21 million tons or 15% from last year. It is hard to see significant rallies for corn when the world’s buyers are buying less and the world’s sellers experienced great yields.

U.S. soybean production for 2015 was estimated at 3.93 billion bushels with a yield of 48 bushels per acre. Production dropped 51 million bushels from last month. The previous yield was 48.3. Ending stocks were down 25 million bushels to 440 million bushels. Those declines helped push soybeans 13 cents higher on report day. Some analysts are suggesting ending stocks could increase to near 500 million bushels in coming months due to shrinking export demand.

During the first two weeks of January, basis levels have improved in some locations for corn and soybeans. Corn basis improved 7 cents at one ethanol producer in western Ohio. Soybean basis improved 5 cents on the Ohio River in Cincinnati. Depending upon your timing and elevator’s needs, corn basis jumps or pushes will generally be greater than soybeans. However, if producers still have soybeans in the bins in July to early August, the basis gains could be dimes, not pennies, if crushers are light on inventory. Numerous grain facilities around Ohio had less than normal purchases for January. In some cases it was a considerable decline. Those light bookings help explain the basis gains detailed above. In a year with sideways price movement basis, gains could go a long way towards improving the bottom line.

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