World Bulletin/News Desk
U.S. corn and wheat stockpiles shrank far more this summer than grain markets thought, the government reported on Friday, and corn prices zoomed higher on prospects that heavy demand and drought-decimated crops will keep markets tight.
Corn futures surged nearly 6 percent and hit the daily limit on the Chicago Board of Trade after the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported corn stocks on Sept. 1 were below 1 billion bushels for the first time in eight years. Wheat futures rose more than 5 percent and briefly topped $9 a bushel.
"A sub-1 billion number is enough to get the market nervous," said Sterling Smith, futures specialist for Citigroup in Chicago, referring to corn. Smith said the surge in corn prices pulled up wheat and soybean prices too.
The worst U.S. drought in half a century has decimated crops, and tight supplies should keep commodity prices at record levels and boost prices at the grocery store.
USDA's survey of farmers and warehouses showed 988 million bushels of corn on hand -- 11 percent less than expected -- on Sept. 1. That date is the start of the corn marketing year and the traditional low point for supplies, as it comes before this year's harvest gets added to the stockpiles.
Wheat stocks of 2.1 billion bushels were 7 percent smaller than traders expected. Soybean stocks were much larger than expected. It was the third straight year that the USDA's September inventory report surprised traders. Many analysts had expected stockpiles to rise because the corn harvest started early this fall.
But supplies shrank. Even with corn prices soaring to $8 per bushel earlier this year, demand remained heavy from exporters, livestock farmers, ethanol plants and food makers.
Corn futures were limit up -- at the daily ceiling -- at $7.56-1/2 a bushel in Chicago at midday. "Synthetic" bids indicated corn was worth $7.59 a bushel. Wheat consumption was up by 27 percent for June-August compared to one year ago, USDA said. Jason Kitt of The Linn Group said livestock producers who predominantly use corn in feed rations are increasingly turning to wheat.
The number "implies pretty good wheat feeding during the quarter, which is supportive -- wheat is corn again," Kitt said.
Livestock feeders use wheat as feed when corn is scarce and expensive. While U.S. corn production has declined for three years in a row, growers harvested 2.27 billion bushels of wheat this year, the largest crop in eight years. Wheat futures sold for $8.98 a bushel, up 5 percent, at midday on Friday.
Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities, said corn consumption for June-August was larger than expected, "so we're going to hear talk that we're going to have to do a better job of rationing in the feed sector. That's not easy to do."
U.S. food producers also hope they can reduce pressure on corn supplies by convincing the U.S. government to relax a federal mandate to use corn-based ethanol in gasoline.
Governors of seven U.S. states have petitioned the Obama administration to ease the mandate, saying high corn prices were punishing meat, poultry and dairy farmers. Grain supplies data could play a part in the decision, possible in November.
U.S. meat production is projected to fall this year and in 2013 because of high grain prices.
Soybean stockpiles totaled 169 million bushels at the start of this marketing year, much larger than expected, despite heavy consumption late in the 2011/12 marketing year.
USDA also revised its estimate of the 2011 soybean crop to 3.09 billion bushels, up 1 percent. The 37 million-bushel
increase was roughly the same as the difference between the stockpile figure and trade expectations for stocks.
Volatility eased as traders focused on the world economy and corporate earnings after a week dominated by the dramatic spike in tensions over North Korea, which triggered a global sell-off before prices bounced back Monday.
Investors greeted the more conciliatory tone after US stocks dropped three days in a row last week on President Donald Trump's vow of "fire and fury" if North Korea continued to pursue its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
The ultra-conservative kingdom has moved to diversify its traditionally oil-dependent economy following a sharp fall in crude prices.
In its monthly report on the global oil market, the International Energy Agency said, however, that it believes the supply glut is easing, partly because demand is growing faster.
US stocks have been in retreat since President Donald Trump Tuesday issued a fiery warning to North Korea to halt its nuclear program.
The move by one of Japan's best-known firms greatly reduces the chance of an embarrassing delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE).
London's benchmark FTSE 100 index weakened by 0.5 percent to 7,503.39 points.
The approval by the European Commission comes just over two months after the European Central Bank -- which took on the role of the eurozone's banking supervisor in 2014 -- allowed the sale to go ahead for a symbolic fee of one euro.
BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell and Total have all published results in recent days, showing they pocketed $23 billion in net profit in the first half fo the year.
Higher cereal, sugar and dairy prices pushed food price index by 10.2 percent annually in July
HSBC was also a big riser, gaining three percent at £7.65 ($10, 8.5 euros) in late morning trade after the British banking giant announced a share buyback plan alongside a rise in first-half profits.
Both main crude contracts made strong gains, with WTI testing $50 a barrel for the first time since late May and Brent heading towards $53, while mining giants BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto saw their share price rise as commodities strengthened.