(Updates U.S. market activity to close)
By Michael Hirtzer
CHICAGO, March 8 (Reuters) - U.S. corn futures jumped 1.6 percent to a seven-month high on Thursday after the Department of Agriculture showed smaller-than-expected stockpiles in the wake of increased exports and demand for ethanol, traders said.
Corn prices on a continuous chart notched their biggest daily gains since December, dragging wheat futures higher. Soybean futures were narrowly lower following the USDA data that also predicted larger-than-expected U.S. ending stocks for wheat and soy, due in part to reduced exports.
Chicago Board of Trade May corn settled up 6-1/4 cents at $3.93-1/2 per bushel, the contract’s highest level since Aug. 14.
“The (corn) exports were eye-popping,” said Midwest Marketing Solutions analyst Brian Hoops. “They jumped 125 million bushels last month and another 175 million bushels this month. That’s a big swing, when exports are running behind last year’s pace.”
U.S. corn export sales have spiked so far this year after dry and hot conditions took a toll on the crop in Argentina, the No. 3 global corn and soy exporter.
Separate USDA weekly data released at midmorning on Thursday showed U.S. corn exports last week at 1.9 million tonnes and soybean sales of 2.7 million tonnes - both above the range of analyst expectations. Weekly sales of 428,400 tonnes of U.S. wheat were within the range of estimates.
USDA in its monthly supply and demand outlook cut the forecast for Argentina corn and soy production but increased its estimate for soy production in Brazil, the top global soy producer and exporter.
“Argentine soybeans were at 47 million tonnes,” said MaxYield Cooperative analyst Karl Setzer. “We did cut off 7 million tonnes from February, but according to everybody you talk to, as long as we hold above 44 million tonnes it’s not going to impact global balance sheets long term because that’s what they need to meet demand.”
CBOT May soybean futures finished 1-1/4 cents lower at $10.64 per bushel, further pressured by forecasts for light rains in parts of Argentina.
CBOT May wheat was up 2 cents to $4.99-1/4 per bushel and K.C. May wheat futures down 1 cent at $5.33-1/4, with some traders taking profits on long K.C. wheat and short CBOT wheat spreads.
Open interest in CBOT corn futures hit a record of 1,775,602 contracts on Wednesday, surpassing 1,745,258 contracts from Feb. 17, 2011, the CME Group said on Thursday.
Traders said that record could be topped following the session on Thursday, when investment funds were net buyers of 28,000 corn contracts.
Additional reporting by Karl Plume in Chicago and Mark Weinraub in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and Leslie Adler