America's stockpiles of corn and soybeans will be drawn down to surprisingly thin levels this year, the government said in a report that sent grain prices soaring and added to concerns over surging world food prices.
Dwindling stocks in the world's biggest food exporter and poor outlooks from other major exporting countries is combining to make the year the toughest since 2008 when tight supplies led to rising prices and food riots in some countries.
By the time next year's crop is ready for harvest in September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast that stocks of soybeans will be just 140 million bushels, 10 percent below analyst expectations. Corn stocks will likely stand at 745 million bushels, 4 percent below trade forecasts and the smallest supply since 1995.
Both corn and soybeans jumped to 30-month highs on the Chicago Board of Trade in early trading on Wednesday. Soy was up more than 4 percent to $14.06 a bushel while corn was up more than 3.5 percent to $6.28-3/4 a bushel.
"These numbers are bullish numbers across the board," said Rich Nelson, an analyst with the brokerage Allendale Inc. "Most of the moves were made on production revisions and that should be a surprise to most of the trade."
CORN YIELDS TRIMMED
The U.S. Agriculture Department said the corn stocks-to-use ratio — an important indicator of supply and demand — was projected at 5.5 percent, the lowest since 1995-96 when it dropped to 5 percent. The ratio reflected USDA's trimming yield estimates for last fall's harvest and boosting its ethanol use outlook.
The stocks-to-use ratio for soy was 4.2 percent, the lowest level since soybeans became a major crop for U.S. farmers, said Keith Menzie, an oilseeds analyst for the department's World Agricultural Outlook Board.
Stocks of U.S. soybeans totaled only 2.28 billion bushels as of Dec. 1, or 3 percent less than traders had expected, while production was forecast at 1.3 percent less than expected by the market at 3.329 billion bushels.
Don Roose, an analyst at U.S. Commodities in Iowa, said the lower-than-expected numbers mean markets will want to move higher.
"We are going to have to move to price levels high enough to slow down the demand," he said.
USDA said Dec. 1 corn stocks also came in slightly lower than expected at 10.04 billion bushels, down 8 percent from a year ago and just below the 10.067 billion bushels on average expected by traders.
Wheat inventories at Dec. 1 came in closer to expectations at 1.93 billion bushels, up 8 percent from a year ago.
The USDA boosted wheat exports because of brisk sales to date and reduced competition from flood-hit Australia.
Agribusiness companies also rose on U.S. markets, with the fertilizer maker Potash Corp up more than 1 percent and Monsanto up 3.3 percent. Tyson Foods, possibly facing higher feed costs in producing its meat products, fell 2.3 percent.
BIG WHEAT PLANTINGS
The USDA released its first estimate of winter wheat plantings. At 40.99 million acres it represented a 10 percent increase over last year and reflected strong prices and good planting conditions.
Strong world demand led by China and bad weather in big producing countries such as Australia have combined to diminish crop inventories in the United States and around the world.
The USDA has not yet forecast how many acres U.S. producers will plant to corn and soybeans this spring. But this year is off to a bad start in other parts of the world with searing heat in Argentina and floods in Australia darkening the outlook for their big harvests.
USDA cut its forecast of Argentina's soy production by 3 percent from last month, and also cut Argentina's corn outlook by 6 percent.
Australia's wheat crop outlook was trimmed by 2 percent from last month, and exports were forecast to decline 1.5 million tonnes as heavy rain and flooding reduced the quality of the harvest and further pressured world supplies and prices.
However, the USDA increased global 2010/11 wheat ending stocks slightly. Traders had expected a cut.
© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.