U.S. soybeans futures rose 1.2 per cent on Thursday as strong export demand spurred a wave of technical buying, traders said.
Soybean prices, which passed through key technical resistance points at the 30-day, 100-day and 200-day moving averages, benefited from ongoing concerns about delays in moving recently harvested crops in South America to overseas buyers.
"The beat goes on," said Brian Rydlund, market analyst at CHS Hedging. "Even if you can buy these alleged cheap beans from down there, you wonder when you are going to get them, if you ever do."
Wheat prices also firmed as the benchmark Chicago Board of Trade contract’s decline to an eight-month low earlier this week has made U.S. soft red winter wheat the cheapest for importers.
Corn followed wheat and soybeans higher, receiving additional support from end-of-month short covering. Speculators have piled shorts onto their corn position throughout February on expectations of large U.S. plantings this spring.
"The market has found some support," said Dewey Strickler, president of AgWatch Market Advisors. "We are just really greatly oversold in corn."
Corn futures have risen for four straight days and hit their highest level in nearly three weeks.
CBOT March soybeans settled up 16-3/4 cents at $14.74-1/4 a bushel. CBOT March corn was up 10 cents at $7.19-1/2 a bushel and CBOT March wheat gained 3-1/2 cents to $7.07-3/4 a bushel (all figures US$).
For the month, soybean futures were up 0.5 percent. Corn futures fell 2.8 per cent, their sixth drop in seven months. CBOT wheat dropped 9.2 per cent in February, its biggest drop since September 2011.
The U.S. Agriculture Department said weekly export sales of soybeans were 1.171 million tonnes, including 689,000 tonnes of old-crop supplies. Analysts were expecting soybean export sales in a range from 750,000 to one million tonnes.
China was a big buyer of U.S. soybeans, accounting for 70 per cent of the weekly sales.
"The market is realizing that supply is very tight and it is going to be a big challenge to get soybeans and corn out of Brazil in time," said Victor Thianpiriya, agriculture strategist at ANZ in Singapore.
"Across wheat and corn markets, tight supply is going to support prices for the first half of the year until South America comes into the market."
U.S. wheat has become increasingly competitive and a tender announced by Saudi Arabia to purchase 110,000 tonnes of soft wheat and 440,000 tonnes of hard wheat could bring a fresh U.S.
"Milling wheat market has been strongly supported by international demand over the past days as U.S. traders sold milling wheat to China, Japan, Taiwan and Egypt," Arnaud Saulais of Starsupply Commodity Brokers in Geneva said.
— Mark Weinraub is a Reuters correspondent covering the grain futures markets from Chicago. Additional reporting for Reuters by Guz Trompiz in Paris and Naveen Thukral in Singapore.