U.S. wheat up as Russia says may curb exports

Wheat prices climbed on Friday as Russia’s economy minister raised the possibility of grain export curbs by the world’s third-largest wheat shipper.

Soybeans rose late, but posted their biggest weekly loss in a year. Corn edged higher, but ended with its largest weekly loss in more than three months.

Russia, which accounted for 14 per cent of the world’s wheat trade in 2011-12, may curb grain exports if domestic prices continue to rise, Economy Minister Andrei Belousov said.

Any restriction on Russian exports would open the door to increased sales of U.S. and European wheat. However, a large percentage of the U.S. wheat supply is already committed and shipped out, limiting the upside of the possible Russian curbs, said Don Roose, president of Iowa-based U.S. Commodities.

The beginning of the wheat harvest in Argentina and decent prospects in Australia also capped wheat’s gains, he said.

"There is Russia, but it doesn’t look like a 2010 (situation), or anything like that," he said. Russia barred grain exports for almost a year in August 2010.

Egypt, the world’s top wheat importer, has bulked up on Russian wheat this month, along with some from France and elsewhere, on concerns that Russia and Ukraine may have little to offer later.

December wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) rose 17-3/4 cents, or two per cent, to $8.97-1/4 a bushel, passing through its 50-day moving average (all figures US$). For the week, the nearby wheat contract posted a slight loss, its first decline in four weeks.

Russia’s diminished trade prospects may push U.S. wheat to the upper end of its trading range, but nothing more dramatic, said Bill Biedermann, co-founder and a branch manager at Allendale Inc.

"How high do we have to go? Honestly, in a macro perspective, we’re not going to run out of wheat," Biedermann said. "We have plenty of wheat in the world."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates global wheat production for 2012-13 at roughly 659 million tonnes, down five per cent from the previous year but still the fourth-largest production in the last decade.

Analytical firm Informa Economics on Friday estimated U.S. 2012 wheat production at 2.273 billion bushels, slightly above the USDA’s estimate.

Traders have speculated for months that severe drought would force Russia to limit exports, despite official denials. Nearby Chicago wheat prices, the world benchmark, have soared more than 40 per cent since mid-June, boosted by concerns about the Russian drought and spiking corn prices.

Russia barred grain exports in August 2010 after a severe drought that led to a wheat crop of just 41.5 million tonnes. Chicago prices nearly doubled in the two months leading up to the ban that summer.

This year’s Russian wheat crop is forecast to be even lower at around 38 million tonnes following another widespread drought.

"The issue of a grain export ban is the issue of domestic grain price dynamics. We are witnessing such a trend at the moment… With such a trend, it’s quite possible that the government will decide to restrict grain exports," Belousov told reporters on the sidelines of a conference at the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The minister said the government would review the grain export situation this autumn. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich has repeatedly denied exports would be restricted.

Wheat has further support from concerns about dry conditions in the U.S. southern Plains, where winter wheat sowings need moisture to get established.

Seasonal pressure

CBOT November soybeans finished higher on late short-covering and bargain buying, rising 0.2 per cent, or three cents, to $16.21-3/4 a bushel in choppy trading. The nearby soybean contract posted a weekly loss of 6.6 per cent, the biggest in a year.

U.S. farmers have started harvesting corn and soybeans at a brisk pace, adding seasonal pressure to prices that jumped to all-time highs this summer as the worst drought in half a century ravaged crops across the U.S. Midwest.

Informa estimated the 2012 U.S. soybean planted area at 77.143 million acres, up from the USDA’s estimate of 76.1 million acres, but that was as expected, Cekander said.

Informa pegged U.S. corn plantings at 97.172 million acres, up from the USDA’s 96.4 million acres.

CBOT December corn added 0.3 per cent, or 2-1/4 cents, at $7.48-1/4 a bushel, notching a weekly loss of 3.8 per cent.

Argentina’s 2012-13 corn season, which many analysts think could yield a record harvest, is off to a good start as moist fields spur seeding, the Buenos Aires Grains Exchange said.

In Brazil, farmers have started planting after rains set the scene for what are expected to be bumper corn and soybean crops.

— Rod Nickel writes for Reuters from Winnipeg. Additional reporting for Reuters by Naveen Thukral in Singapore, Gus Trompiz in Paris and Sarah McFarlane and Nigel Hunt in London.

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