Markets for Friday, December 23, 2016

Soybean futures sank Thursday to a fresh one-month low as good weather in South America assuaged fears over crop shortfalls there. Wheat also fell while corn was mixed.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said net soybean sales for the week ended Dec. 15 totaled about 1.8 million metric tons, toward the high end of analyst expectations.

Soybean futures for January dropped 12 1/4 cents, to $9.94 1/2 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade, the lowest closing price since Nov. 18.

Wheat prices closed lower for the fifth out of six sessions, buffeted by abundant U.S. and global supplies of the crop. The world has the most wheat on hand ever, and domestic stockpiles are projected at a 29-year high next year. That is spurring concerns over U.S. export demand at the same time that weather improves in the U.S. wheat belt.

Weaker-than-expected export sales also pressured prices for the grain.

CBOT March wheat futures declined 2 1/2 cents, to $3.97 a bushel.

CBOT March corn futures were flat. July-dated futures slipped 1/4 cent, to $3.61 1/4 a bushel.

Cattle futures edged higher Thursday, boosted by higher cash prices paid for animals and rising export sales. Hog futures declined.

February-dated live cattle futures climbed 0.5% to close at $1.168 at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, after meatpackers paid higher prices to secure cattle in southern U.S. plains states.

Steers and heifers changed hands at $1.14 to $1.16 a pound live, improving upon the $1.12 paid toward the end of last week and the average $1.1268 paid as nearly 2,900 animals were sold Wednesday via an online auction. Thursday’s robust trade meant that beef processors likely have taken care of their needs for the week, and few cattle were expected to trade Friday ahead of the Christmas weekend.

Fatter cash prices for animals followed a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that showed beef export sales reported in the week ended Dec. 15 rose 8% over the prior four-week average, as South Korea, Japan and Mexico throttled up beef purchases.

Signals of strong demand for U.S. beef came as traders gird for a report on the U.S. cattle herd due out Friday from the USDA that is expected to show U.S. cattlemen directing 12.5% more animals toward feedlots in November, which would put more animals in position to be slaughtered in the months ahead. An analyst survey by The Wall Street Journal also showed that the pace of cattle marketing likely picked up in November.

Though cash prices paid for hogs have softened this week, futures prices have largely held even as some analysts view the market as due for a correction after rising about 27% so far this month. On Thursday, February-dated lean hog futures settled 0.3% lower at 64.72.

Stocks slightly lower on Wall Street as a number of retailers lose ground.   The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 23 points, or 0.1 percent, to 19,918.   The Standard & Poor’s 500 index lost 4 points, or 0.2 percent, at 2,260. The Nasdaq composite fell 24 points, or 0.4 percent, to 5,447.   Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.55 percent.