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Grain market week in review - April 18, 2019

Light maneuvering drives grain prices to narrowly mixed results to end the week.

Missed some grain market news this week? Here’s what Bryce Knorr and Ben Potter have been writing about.  

Audio 

Grain futures are mixed as trading gets underway for a short-week ahead of Good Friday and Easter. Corn found support from wet forecasts again this week while news about trade talks with China gave a boost to soybeans. Wheat was mostly lower because the winter wheat crop in the U. S. remains in good shape despite a little deterioration last week. 

Few wheels are turning in the Midwest, and barges won’t be navigating the Mississippi River north of St. Louis until next week at the earliest. But so far wet conditions aren’t generating much in the way of concern from the markets. Futures drifted mostly lower overnight as traders start to wind down for the Easter weekend. 

Grain futures edged mostly higher overnight but without a whole lot of enthusiasm after Tuesday’s sharp break. While more storms are moving through the western Corn Belt this morning, the outlook appears to be trending drier for the eastern half of the country, tempering the slow planting story a little. Burdensome inventories are an even greater drag on the market right now as traders wind down ahead of the Easter holiday.

Markets don’t close officially until this afternoon in the U.S. but trading overnight already had something of a holiday flavor to it with positioning evident ahead of Good Friday and Easter. Wheat remains under the most pressure as its marketing year winds down while soybean traders will watch this morning’s export sales totals to see if China did any buying in the past week

Market recaps

Grain futures are mixed this morning as trading begins to wind down into the Easter weekend. Markets close for Good Friday in the U.S., and some in Europe and Asia will stay down for Eastern Monday. U.S. markets begin trading again electronically at their normal times Sunday evening.

With a lot of political theater playing out Thursday in Washington, D.C., following the release of Special Council Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated (and redacted) report, grain markets spent a relatively drama-free session today, with some light technical maneuvering driving grain prices to narrowly mixed results. Corn and soybeans firmed slightly, with wheat prices in slight decline.

Crop progress 

Rain, snow and cold weather may not stop your mail carrier, but it has certainly slowed spring planting progress so far. As of April 14, just 3% of this year’s U.S. corn crop is in the ground, per the latest USDA crop progress report out Monday afternoon. 

Exports 

Even though China continues to dominate sentiment in the soybean market as trade talks continue to progress, the actual delivery of the grain remains unimpressive, with another week of lower-than-expected soybean inspections for the week ending April 11, according to Farm Futures senior grain market analyst Bryce Knorr. 

Outlooks 

Financial outlook - While anxiety is growing in farm country after another year of low farm income, growers surveyed recently by Farm Futures at least don’t think it can get much worse. Only 18% expect income to fall, while 23% look for an increase and 58% see income flat in the year ahead. USDA in March forecast net farm income would be up $6.3 billion this year at $69.4 billion, though that would be 44% below the peak reached in 2013. 

Fertilizer outlook - Farmers still waiting to learn their final fertilizer bill for 2019 should get ready for a surprise. The news could be good, bad or anything else in a crazy year for a market ruled by wild weather and international turbulence. For those without supplies on hand, how much you pay depends on the vagaries of where you farm and how far you can go for products. 

Soybean outlook - With global soybean supplies at record levels and wet weather pushing farmers to add acres this spring, rallies wouldn’t seem likely. Yet seasonal trends point to just that in April and May for both old and new crop contracts, whose charts are on the verge of upside breakouts.  

Corn outlook - With temperatures finally start to warm soils in the Corn Belt, tractors should be moving. They aren’t, and planting delays could be the best hope for a rally over the next month or so. Don’t expect much more than short covering, because old crop inventories should top 2 billion bushels at the end of the 2018 crop marketing year Aug. 31. That carryover will be a hangover for the market until and unless a serious weather threat emerges this summer.  

Wheat outlook - The wheat market doesn’t have much of a reason to rally right now. Fundamentals are bearish and seasonal trends favor prices moving lower into summer and harvest.  

Energy/ethanol outlook - Pain at the pump could mean at least a little gain for corn growers. Demand for ethanol should start to increase soon, with or without final confirmation of year-round E15 usage by the EPA. Credit a surge in gasoline costs that’s making ethanol much more competitive for blending, even before the summer driving season kicks into gear.  

Basis outlook - Record inventories and the trade war with China combined to send the cash market for 2018 crop soybeans off the rails. Still, there are finally some glimmers of hope on the horizon. Don’t expect bids to get back anywhere close to normal. But the cash market showed signs of a pulse this week.  

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