December was a fitting end for a year in which none of the major agricultural contracts – corn, wheat, or soybeans – ended more than 5% higher or lower than a year ago. The corn market was particularly quiet with only a 14-cent trading range for the month and a settlement price almost identical to a year ago.
As the calendar turned over to May, U.S. weather moved to the front and center of the market’s focus. The dominant feature for the month was the record or near-record rainfall in the central U.S. In the first half of the month, southern Missouri and the adjacent areas were "ground zero," and in the second half, it was the state of Indiana.
As we prepare for the month of May, it appears that the relative calm that we have enjoyed is about to end. We might even describe the last four months as ones of extreme calm. For soybeans, we had the narrowest January through April trading range since 2001; and for corn, it was the narrowest range since 2006. In fact, corn, wheat, soybeans and soy products all ended April within 1.5% of where they closed the month of March.
As we began the month of January it appeared that flooding and wildfires in Argentina would be our dominant stories. However, just as conditions in Argentina started to improve, a new U.S. President was being sworn in. It quickly became clear that the new administration would create far more risk and uncertainty than this year’s South American weather.
While last year’s South American weather problems were much more harmful to corn, we continue the tradition of trading this as a soybean problem. Soybeans broke 50 cents last week on good weather in Argentina and rallied 25 cents on Tuesday, Dec. 27, on dry weather for northeastern Brazil. Reports of record yields in Mato Grosso, Goias and Parana were ignored yesterday, but embraced today. As always, news follows price.
The month of November proved to be a very interesting month for agricultural commodities. After starting with a traditional focus on the U.S. harvest and the record yields in corn and soybeans, our markets were impacted mid-month by a Chinese speculative buying frenzy and late month by the combination of the EPA’s increased biofuels mandate, the USDA’s 10-year Baseline projections, and OPEC’s agreement to cut production by 1.2 million barrels per day.
As is the case every July, U.S. weather played the dominant role in agricultural futures markets this month. For the corn belt, it was a very good month; it was the fifth rainiest July in the past 121 years and temperatures were exactly in line with the long term averages. Not surprisingly, many have started to discuss record yields for corn and soybeans. We believe that is a reasonable assumption for corn, but a bit premature for soybeans.
The performance of July soybean meal futures these past two months has been truly epic. The agricultural markets have had significant rallies in the past, but rarely has a single month of a single commodity staged such a significant solo performance.