Tag Archives: crops

2015 El Nino and the U.S. Grain Markets

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has repeatedly stated the growing case for the 2015-2016 El Nino event. While much has been discussed in the headlines, very little of the conversation has focused on the commodity price impact that the most significant El Nino weather pattern since 1997 could have on U.S. crops. This week, we’ll begin our look at how the U.S. grain markets performed during 1997-1998 El Nino and continue this line of thought through the global grain markets next week before finishing this segment with a look at El Nino’s impact on energy prices.

Continue reading 2015 El Nino and the U.S. Grain Markets

Historical Wheat vs Corn Spread Prices

Trading the grain markets has always been tricky, especially during the planting and harvesting periods. Historically, this has placed us at the agricultural epicenter for global grain trade. Obviously, tension in Ukraine and the corresponding 15% spike in wheat prices have reminded everyone that even the agricultural markets are now a global game. In this respect, it’s no longer enough to keep an eye on domestic weather patterns to determine the success of our winter crops or anticipate spring wheat seeding. Now, it is imperative to focus on global production issues and World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements, as well.

Continue reading Historical Wheat vs Corn Spread Prices

The Bean to Corn Ratio Spread

The recent weeks of hot weather have begun to take their toll on the crops in the field. Primarily, we are witnessing soybean’s greater sensitivity to late summer heat relative to corn. Not surprisingly, soybeans have rallied about 14% since August 8th as compared to less than 3% for corn. The result of this divergent behavior among crops grown side-by-side is that the bean to corn ratio has been elevated to levels that we don’t view as sustainable. Therefore, we’ll look at some reference points for the bean to corn ratio as well as the relationship between these two crops before ending with some fundamental data that forces us to re-think the usefulness of historical data in the face of a fundamentally changing marketplace.

The bean to corn ratio is simply the price of soybeans divided by the price of corn. Currently, November soybean futures are trading around $13.55 per bushel and December corn futures are trading at $4.68 per bushel. The November and December futures contracts represent this year’s crop in the fields, respectively. Therefore, the current bean to corn ratio is approximately 2.9. Beans are 2.9 times more expensive than corn on a per bushel basis. The last time this spread was this high was August of 2009. There have only been four years since 1975 when ending prices for the current year’s crop have closed at a spread greater than 3. According to Carl Zulauf of Ohio State’s Department of Agriculture, the maximum traded price for the ratio is 4.1 in May of 1977. He’s also published the low figure of 1.72 in July of 1996. The average for the spread over the last 45 years is 2.52 while the spread’s normal trading range is 2.19 – 2.85.

Soybeans and corn obviously share many of the same concerns throughout the year and therefore their prices tend to move in the same general directions. Their seasonal characteristics are very highly correlated with the lone notable difference being soybeans’ tendency to remain at higher prices later into the spring due to their later planting dates and associated concerns. Once beans get past July 4th, they sell off just like corn until harvest time nears at which point they both get another boost. The correlation between beans and corn has been positive on a weekly basis all the way back to November of 2012. The daily chart, on the other hand is currently displaying the first negative correlation between these two markets since early May of this year which coincides with typical planting issues.

The United States is still the dominant market maker in both corn and soybeans. However, the rapid expansion of Argentina and Brazil’s commercial farming industry is changing the dynamic of the global corn and soybean markets. This year, the combined output of Argentina and Brazil is likely to be nearly 30% of global corn production and as much as 60% of global soybean production. The combined soybean output of Argentina and Brazil is expected to outpace the US by a third. This must change the way we view the data at hand. This is especially true when studies are produced using 45 years worth of data as the Ohio State piece referenced. The global supply of beans and corn hasn’t been split among our countries. The process has been and will continue to be, additive. Total global production will continue to increase overall with foreign production continuing to grow faster than domestic production.

The marketplace always reflects the participants’ best guess of fair value at the last traded price. Therefore, both domestic and global production rates are considered when trades are placed at the US commodity exchanges. However, more weight is always given to prices in the larger context. Daily highs and lows matter more than those of the last minute just as weekly highs and lows are accorded greater importance than their daily counterparts. Therefore, when markets make multi week, monthly or yearly highs or lows, we pay attention. The soybean rally brings us to levels not seen since last December and has pushed the relationship between corn and soybeans to multi-year highs.

We believe that the latest push in this spread has come from speculative buying in the soybean market. There are three primary drivers of mass speculative action in the commodity markets, all of which lead to whipsaw action at extreme price levels. Tension in the Middle East spurs speculative energy buying. Stock market collapses spur knee jerk selling. Finally, droughts spur speculative corn and bean buying. All three of these situations end up with small speculators left holding the hot potato. The current Commitment of Traders report clearly shows large amounts of small speculative buying heading into the USDA Supply/Demand and Crop Production reports. Considering commercial traders have pared their net position by 25% over the last three weeks, we believe it’s likely that this report could mark the high for the bean corn spread as it returns to its normal trading range.

Buy Beans Below the Teens

The growing season for U.S. crops is right around the corner and several factors, fundamentally, technically and seasonally are lining up to suggest that the time to buy soybean futures and soybean meal futures may be right around the corner. Last year’s drought placed heavy demands on Brazilian and Argentine crops as well as the beans left over in the bins. The tight supplies have left us with a stock to usage ratio of less than 5%. In fact, the USDA recently stated that this year’s U.S. stock to usage ratio of 4.3% is the lowest since 1965. Typically any ratio below 10% is bullish for U.S. beans.  Meanwhile, the global stock to usage ratio is the lowest since 1996.

Demand for soybeans also continues to increase. Chinese hog farming represents a large portion of the soybean demand through their use of soybean meal as feed. The USDA expects that China’s hog production may reach more than 60% of the world’s total in 2013. In fact, Chinese soybean imports have increased six-fold since 2000 to meet the growing demands of their own domestic usage. U.S. exports are already 25% above last year’s levels and currently stand at 93% of the USDA’s export expectations of the U.S. crop in 2013 for the marketing year ending this August. China’s imports have led the way and are up 13% year over year.

Seasonally, soybeans tend to sell off and make an early spring low sometime in February. This is followed immediately by a rally into Memorial Day as planting related weather concerns force the market back and forth between, “too dry” or “too wet.” The late February low also coincides with the South American harvest, which is currently in full swing. The South American harvest sell off is similar to the September harvest sell off we get here in the U.S.

The final piece of seasonal analysis is the analysis of the seasons themselves. Last year’s drought has not been sufficiently squelched by winter snows. Soil moisture in the leading soybean producing states is running dangerously low. Nine of the most productive states are sitting at 20% of normal soil moisture. This is the mirror image of last spring when only 20% of the same area was below normal moisture levels. The world cannot afford a drought in the U.S. in 2013.

Moving to the more technical nature of the market the commercial traders have been net buyers of beans since November. Their net position has doubled and they’ve only been net sellers twice in the last 15 weeks. Commercial traders have been early buyers in each of the last three years. Each of the last three years has given us an early rally, as well. Deeper research reveals the importance of this. Commercial traders have come into the year on a positive note one third of the time over the last 30 years. Soybeans have had meaningful early rallies in seven out of the ten years that commercial traders have started the year on a bullish note.

The USDA has raised its 2013 forecast to a range of $13.55 – $15.05 per bushel. These estimates are based on the November soybean futures, which will be this year’s planted crop. November soybeans are currently trading at $12.70 per bushel. The November beans have formed a triple bottom on the daily chart near $12.55. This would imply the market wants to trade lower and see what happens under the $12.50 area. Technically a test or, penetration of $12 would provide an ideal bottom to start looking at the buy side for the November soybean futures contract. Breaking the $12.50 level would accomplish two things. First, it would flush early and weak buyers out of the market and allow the positions to reset themselves. Secondly, it would create an oversold condition that, combined with positive commercial trader momentum could be used as a springboard to get long on the bounce higher.

There are far too many bullish global factors to ignore the buy side of soybeans in 2013. The fundamental factors of growing global demand in the face of record low current inventories will magnify any weather related issues. The soybean market typically overshoots its targets and suggested price ranges. Therefore, buying soybeans $1.50 below the bottom of the USDA’s price targets may very well net a profit in excess of the USDA’s high side of their forecast at $15.05.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

Food or, Fuel?

Corn is facing unprecedented demand on all fronts. The USDA
reported that prospective corn planting for 2011 is expected to be 5% higher
than last year. That would make this the second largest crop planted since
1944. The 92.5 million acres is second only to 2007’s record of 93.5 million
acres. In spite of the growing acreage in corn and higher yields driven by
greater technology, corn stocks are still down 10% from this time last year. In
fact, the corn on hand versus this year’s expected demand, (stocks to usage
ratio), stands at 5%. This is the lowest number since 1937. There are currently
6.5 billion bushels of corn in storage versus global demand of 123.5 billion

The government’s push towards ethanol was actually initiated
by Carter during the oil crisis of the 70’s. It was left dormant until the post
9/11 energy independence push. Corn was trading at $2.25 per bushel in 2001.
Cheap, clean burning corn made it a political win/win for energy independence
and the global warming, green energy crowd. This led to government mandates and
subsidies to increase ethanol production every year through 2015. This year, up
to 40% of the corn crop, at a price above $6.50 per bushel, will be allocated
to ethanol production. If we multiply the intended planting acreage times an
average yield of 155 bushels per acre, we can see that the cost of the corn
input of ethanol production will be more than $37 billion dollars.

The U.S. also exports more than 60% of the corn we produce. Our
exports have continued to climb even as the price of corn has nearly doubled in
the last year alone. Meat consumption has just begun to grow in Asian countries
as they’ve begun to prosper and develop their own middle class. This will not
only continue, it will accelerate. Global meat consumption is still only 20% of
the U.S. average. The demand for feed grains continues to outpace production by
1-4% per year. China is determined to have a self -sustaining hog industry by
2013. These factors help explain the continual decline in ending stocks in the
face of growing harvests.

The demands on the corn market from ethanol and food
production leave absolutely no room for weather related issues. This year’s
crop is crucial to restoring our reserves. Based on the current ethanol
policies, it would have to rally another $.50 cents per gallon just to catch up
with the current price of gasoline. Corn would have to reach $8.82 per bushel
for gas and ethanol to reach equilibrium at $3.15 per gallon. Ethanol/ gasoline
blenders also receive a federal credit of $1.30 per bushel. This pushes the break-even
corn price to $10.12 per bushel for ethanol producers.

The price of corn hit an all time high of $7.79 in June of
2008. Remember, this followed the largest crop ever harvested in 2007. We
already know that global gasoline demand will increase, as fuel must be
exported to Japan. We also know that Japan’s imports of all foods will be
higher than ever. China is doing everything they can to put the brakes on their
economy but it won’t derail the growing appetites of their people. Finally, the
continued decline of the U.S. Dollar will serve as double coupon day for global
shoppers as we remain the world’s supermarket.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

Following Up on Corn, Weekly Exports and the Dollar’s Devaluation


Corn continues to march to new highs, now trading around $4.80 per bushel. Much of what we’re seeing is demand driven. I was looking at corn sales for the marketing year ending September 1st and it validated much of what we’ve been discussing.


From the USDA website. China has imported 236,000 metric tons this marketing year. Over the last three years, their U.S. corn imports total 0. Yes, that is a 0.  While this is only 1.5% of our total exports, it must come as a surprise demand factor due their absence of imports in the past. Also of note, Taiwan imported 651,000 metric tons. This is up from 488,000 last year and 0 in the previous two years. Yet another upside surprise. Combine this with Japan’s 66% increase over last year and you have three Asian countries’ demand increasing from 166,000 tons in 2008 to 5,216,000 tons in 2010. This accounts for 1/3 of all exports and obviously represents a HUGE piece of the pricing mechanism. Weekly net exports are as high as they’ve been in the last 10 years.

Fundamental Analytics Weekly Net Sales chart is the 2nd, “Interesting Formation .”Full access to currenc and historical grain reports is available at USDAGrainReports.com

I apologize for the poor formatting. While I may be technically competent, I’m not always technically capable. CORN – UNMILLED                                     MARKETING YEAR 09/01 – 08/31   OUTSTANDING EXPORT SALES AND EXPORTS BY COUNTRY, REGION AND MARKETING YEAR1000 METRIC TONS       AS OF SEPTEMBER 2, 2010——————————————————————————–                      :      CURRENT MARKETING YEAR         :NEXT MARKETING YEAR                       ———————————————————                      :OUTSTANDING SALES:ACCUMULATED EXPORTS: OUTSTANDING SALES                        ———————————————————   DESTINATION        :THIS WEEK: YR AGO:THIS WEEK: YR AGO  :SECOND YR: THIRD YR——————————————————————————–                      :EUROPEAN UNION – 27   :     1.0      0.3       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   SPAIN              :     1.0      0.1       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   U KING             :       *      0.2       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0                      :JAPAN                 :  4329.5   2595.1     166.6     88.9        0.0       0.0                      :TAIWAN                :   651.4    487.9       0.0      4.3        0.0       0.0                      :CHINA                 :   236.0      0.0         *      0.0        0.0       0.0                      :OTHER ASIA AND OCEANIA:  1214.5   1696.4      57.3    117.9        0.0       0.0   HG KONG            :     1.3      1.5       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   INDNSIA            :     0.0      1.4       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   ISRAEL             :   226.0      0.0       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   KOR REP            :   832.1   1633.3      57.3     57.8        0.0       0.0   MALAYSA            :     3.3      3.0       0.0      0.2        0.0       0.0   OPAC IS            :     0.0      1.6       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   PHIL               :     0.5      0.0       0.0      0.0        0.0    &
nbsp;  0.0   SYRIA              :   151.0     50.0       0.0     60.0        0.0       0.0   VIETNAM            :     0.3      5.6       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0                      :AFRICA                :  1144.5    557.7       0.0    174.6        0.0       0.0   ALGERIA            :     0.0      0.0       0.0     26.5        0.0       0.0   EGYPT              :  1090.0    487.8       0.0    130.1        0.0       0.0   MOROCCO            :    29.5     49.9       0.0     18.0        0.0       0.0   TUNISIA            :    25.0     20.0       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0                      :WESTERN HEMISPHERE    :  3739.0   4112.2      61.9    151.2        4.6       0.0   BARBADO            :     3.2      6.1       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   C RICA             :   129.4     71.3       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   CANADA             :    90.2    251.3       6.7     22.1        0.0       0.0   COLOMB             :   295.5    582.3       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   CUBA               :    75.0    200.0       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   DOM REP            :   243.1    196.8       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   ECUADOR            :     0.0     45.0       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   F W IND            :    19.5     17.1       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   GUATMAL            :   248.8    394.9       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   HONDURA            :    82.1     96.7       3.5      0.0        0.0       0.0   JAMAICA            :    64.8     57.6       1.5      0.0        0.0       0.0   LW WW I            :     0.5      1.8       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   MEXICO             :  2283.0   1822.9      30.2     80.1        4.6       0.0   NICARAG            :    11.6      8.7       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   PANAMA             :   103.7     99.0       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   PERU               :    36.5    217.5       0.0     23.5        0.0       0.0   TRINID             :    24.0     15.0       0.0      0.0        0.0       0.0   VENEZ              :    28.2     28.2      20.0     25.5        0.0       0.0——————————————————————————–TOTAL KNOWN           : 11315.9   9449.6     285.8    5
37.0        4.6       0.0TOTAL UNKNOWN         :  3786.6   2681.9       0.0      0.0       50.8       0.0——————————————————————————–TOTAL KNOWN & UNKNOWN : 15102.5  12131.4     285.8    537.0       55.4       0.0EXPORTS FOR OWN ACCT  :      –        –       21.9     34.3         –         – OPTIONAL ORIGIN       :   141.8    127.1        –        –         0.0       0.0——————————————————————————–


These export figures also fall right inline with the Dollar’s declining value. The Yen hit a 15 year high against the Dollar last week and the Chinese Yuan continues to appreciate, in spite of their officially pegged boundaries to the greenback. We also saw the Dollar depreciating against several African currencies, including the Egyptian Pound.


Further examination of the table reveals little in the way of exports to the Euro zone, with Spain and United Kingdom being the only two countries to make the list. Obviously they have an added advantage in being able to grow their own crops but, with the severe weather problems they’ve had this summer and the impact on their crops, one would think we might see an uptick in exports to this area.


I read an interesting article this weekend detailing the competitive devaluation race between Euro zone, United Kingdom and the United States. The current political plans are similar among all three. All three must devalue their currency in order to make their exports more competitive and force increased domestic consumption upon their people. This is the only way they can grow their way out of their recessions while keeping domestic inflation in check. However, at the same time they are printing money to devalue, they are forcing the individual savings rate to increase (the U.S. has gone from 0 savings to 6% in the last year), this also reduces domestic demand, stifles small business and lowers taxable receipts. Keeping this in mind, it becomes a race to see who can implement the process the most efficiently and beat the other faltering countries to the end game of sustainable growth and manageable debt.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk in investing in futures.


Corn Crop Deterioration

The fundamentals f the corn market continue to point towards higher and higher prices. I understand that many people had a hard time forcing themselves to buy new crop corn $6 a bushel. Unfortunately, $7 is here and $7.50 is not far off. The corn market is experiencing a “perfet storm.” The short list of contributing factors are:1) Tight ending stocks leave us very dependent on this year’s crop.2) Increasing global (Asian) demand for red meat funnels more corn to feed.3) Declining Dollar increases global demand for our exports.4) The late start to this year’s crop will have a material effect on yields.5) Growing position of index trader positions in the Commitment of Traders Report.

The following article on Bloomberg goes into more detail without having to source each piece of the puzzle individually. If anyone wants more detail than it provides, please contact me directly.

Corn Deluged by Iowa, Illinois Rain Cuts Yields, Boosts Prices

By Jeff Wilson

Enlarge Image/Details

June 10 (Bloomberg) — Rainstorms sweeping the biggest corn states in the U.S. are damaging a crop that’s already failing to keep pace with global demand for food, fuel and cattle feed.

Farms in Iowa were drenched with 5.78 inches of rain last month, or 37 percent more than normal, according to :S:d1″>Harry Hillaker, the climatologist for the biggest corn-growing state. The 22.23 inches that fell on Illinois from January through May was 45 percent above normal and the third-wettest on record, according to data compiled by the state.

Corn rose to a record $6.73 a bushel yesterday in Chicago, extending this year’s gain to 44 percent. Yields in the U.S. may fall 10 percent short of government forecasts, the biggest drop in 13 years, and send prices up another 34 percent as storms delay planting, stunt growth and leech fertilizer from the soil, said :S:d1″>Terry Jones, who farms more than 6,000 acres near Williamsburg, Iowa.

“It’s already a disaster,” said :S:d1″>Palle Pedersen, an agronomist at Iowa State University in Ames.

About 60 percent of the crop in the U.S., the world’s largest grower and exporter, was in good or excellent condition as of June 8, down from 63 percent the previous week, the Department of Agriculture said yesterday in a report. A year earlier, 77 percent got the highest rating. Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana, the five top-producing states, reported declines.

`Midwest Flooding’

Check USDA Grain Reports

Rainfall across the Midwest was as much as four times normal over the past 60 days, according to National Weather Service data. In some places, storms dumped 15 inches more than average, the data show. The increase is equal to the typical rainfall some fields receive in a year, said :S:d1″>Roger Elmore, who is also an agronomist at Iowa State.

“The Midwest flooding is widespread and that has already hurt the crop,” delaying development and drowning some immature plants, said Jones, who is vice president of Russell Consulting Group in Panora, Iowa. “We could see national yields fall at least 10 percent, even with normal growing conditions the remainder of the year.”

Spring planting was delayed by rain and unusually cool weather that left fields too muddy for tractors and limited growth. U.S. corn planting was 51 percent completed by May 11, less than 71 percent the previous year, USDA data show.

The yield potential for corn drops unless plants emerge from the ground before the end of May in the Midwest, according to a University of Illinois study. The USDA estimated 78 percent had emerged as of June 1, compared with 92 percent a year earlier. To produce the best yields, corn needs to pollinate before the arrival of summer weather.

$8 a Bushel

“The crop is in serious trouble,” said :S:d1″>Jim Stephens, president of Farmers National Commodities Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska, who helps manage more than 3,600 farms across the Midwest. He said corn will top $8 a bushel this year.

The weather is endangering a U.S. crop already expected by the USDA to decline from last year’s record harvest after farmers planted 8.1 percent fewer acres. Global inventories may fall to the lowest levels in 24 years by Aug. 31, the USDA said.

U.S. farmers shifted to soybeans and wheat because the costs of corn is high relative to other crops. The USDA will update its yield and inventory estimates today in Washington and its estimate of U.S. planted acreage on June 30.

Demand for corn to feed livestock jumped 24 percent in the past decade as economic growth boosted incomes and meat consumption in developing countries. The prices of corn, soybeans, rice and wheat surged to recor
ds this year as food demand outpaced production. In the U.S., the cost of corn was increased by government subsidies and mandates for ethanol.

Rising Prices

In the top eight producing states, which grew 75 percent of last year’s crop, there is more acreage at risk than in 1993, when yields plunged 23 percent, said :S:d1″>Chip Flory, editor of the Professional Farmers of American advisory in Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Corn futures for July delivery rose 6.5 cents, or 1 percent, to $6.5725 a bushel yesterday on the Chicago Board of Trade, after touching a record high for a third straight session.

The saturation of soil moisture is in the 98th percentile of the highest levels in the past 40 years from South Dakota to Ohio, according to government data, increasing the risk of reduced yields from the loss of nitrogen fertilizer, Iowa State University’s Elmore said. The saturated soils are depleting fertilizer at a rate of as much as 4 percent a day, he said.

Farmers were expected to produce about 153.9 bushels an acre on average, up from 151.1 bushels last year, the USDA said May 9. Instead, yields probably will drop below 139 bushels and may fall even more, said Jones, the Iowa farmer.

To contact the reporter on this story: :S:d1″>Jeff Wilsonjwilson29@bloomberg.net