5 Min Read
* Global crop weather remains in focus
* High temperatures forecast for Argentina
* Ten percent Argentine corn crop pollinated
* Trading seen volatile at year's end
By K.T. Arasu
CHICAGO, Dec 19 (Reuters) - It will be a holiday-shortened week but U.S. grain markets are not expected to be any less volatile on continued concerns over global weather damaging crops and as traders try to squeeze out profits at year's end.
Markets will be closed on Friday, Christmas Eve. But the preceding four days will see traders focusing on dry weather in Argentina as the corn crop pollinates and on the pace of harvest in rain-soaked eastern Australia.
Add to that investors seeking to close their books on a high note, with corn futures Cc1 at the Chicago Board of Trade surging 44 percent so far this year, soybeans Sc1 rising 25 percent and wheat Wc1 rallying 39 percent.
CBOT wheat is on track to post its first yearly gain in three years after dropping 42 percent the past two years, helped by a drought which decimated the Russian crop and halted exports and rains which reduced the quality of Australian wheat.
Corn and soybean futures are closing in on their second straight year of gains.
"It could be anything but a quiet week," said grains analyst Dan Cekander of Newedge USA in Chicago.
"There could be upside pressure from a supply-demand standpoint," he said, adding that hot weather was forecast in Argentina from the middle of next week.
The corn crop in Argentina, the world's second largest exporter of the grain after the United States, has begun the pollination stage of development, a critical period when weather can boost or crimp yields.
CRITICAL TIME FOR ARGENTINE CORN
"This is a critical time for corn (in Argentina). Rainfall last was scattered and crops in areas that did not get rains are in various stages of moisture stress," said agronomist Michael Cordonnier who runs the Soybean and Corn Advisor consultancy in the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale, Illinois.
He said 10 percent of the Argentine corn crop had pollinated, 30 percent was in the process of pollinating and 50 percent was set to begin the process in about two weeks.
Eastern Australian weather will also be a trading factor, with analysts saying that further rains could turn more of the country's milling quality wheat into livestock fodder.
"It can get worse if it keeps raining on top of what the crop has gone through so far," said grains analyst Charlie Sernatinger of ABN Amro in Chicago.
He said about 30 percent of the Australian wheat crop had already been harvested before excessive rains began pummeling the crop, adding that this wheat would be used for exports.
Traders said Japan last week bought its first cargo of Australian wheat in about a month.
Corn futures are expected to be underpinned by Congress extending an ethanol tax credit and the tariff on ethanol imports for another year. They were signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday as part of a tax bill.
Corn will also be supported by Informa Economics, a leading private crop forecaster, cutting its estimate of the area to be planted with corn in the United States this spring by 2.4 million acres from its previous outlook to 90.755 million.
The company revised its forecast of soybean acres to 77.565 million from 75.8 million in November.
"These are preliminary numbers, but it shows corn and beans facing competition from other grains for acres," said analyst Don Roose of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines, Iowa.
He also said the weather in Argentina remains a market focus. "Argentine weather has been put on the front burner as the crop goes through pollination. There's hot weather starting Wednesday and stretching into the following Wednesday."
Settlement prices for CBOT grains and oilseed complex:
LAST NET PCT YTD
CHG CHG CHG CBOT corn Cc1 596.50 9.00 1.5% 43.9% CBOT soy Sc1 1298.75 9.75 0.8% 24.9% CBOT meal SMc1 347.80 4.00 1.2% 10.8% CBOT soyoil BOc1 54.13 0.06 0.1% 34.2% CBOT wheat Wc1 756.75 7.00 0.9% 39.8% (Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen; editing by Jim Marshall and Diane Craft)