The chart of A$ values for nearby CBOT wheat futures is interesting. What it shows is a market that was poised to see US exports capture more market share. In doing so it traded to a low of $A250 a tonne and a high of $A270/t, from early August last year until mid February this year. That is about as boring as a price chart can get.
During that time the optimists were belted back down every time the market looked like going too high. Equally, on the downside, the market found support from the view that US exports were about to pick up as the pace of Russian exports slowed.
What actually happened as Russian wheat prices rose and export volumes dipped, is that European exports picked up to fill the void, leaving US wheat on the shelves. Eventually the market lost patience and plunged from $A270/t to $A220/t over a four-week period straddling February and early March.
However, that was a bridge too far as it threatened to take wheat prices down to levels seen at the bottom of the market in August 2016. A price fall that far was not justified, and the market rejected this downward move and has recovered during the second half of March to get back to prices above $A240/t, albeit briefly.
There is no doubt that there is a negative air about grain futures in general, with wheat being caught up in it. Any whiff of bad news is enough to keep the pressure on prices, but it still seems to be a big call for the market to consider retesting the long term lows of 2016.
That aside, the whiff of bad news did waft through at the end of last week when the USDA released US grains stocks data for March 1, and planting intentions data for the coming year.
What unfolded was not that bad for wheat, but was negative for corn, which then put pressure on both wheat and soybeans. At first blush US corn stocks data was positive in that is shows a 3.2 per cent year on year decline in US stocks. The problem is that the trade had been expecting a larger fall. On top of this, separate USDA data shows that US farmers intend to plant more corn this year, with a 3.66 million acre increase to a three-year high.
Corn futures got belted after the report was released casting a negative pallor over wheat and soybeans. Soybeans also had their own bad news with a 29pc year on year increase in US stocks in the wake of the US/Chinese trade war, with stocks being slightly above trade expectations.
Wheat was the poor cousin in that the wheat data was actually not too bad. Wheat stocks were a little above market expectation, but the numbers still indicated an 11pc increase in disappearance in the quarter ending March 1 compared to the year before. On top of that, the plantings estimate for wheat came in below trade estimates and at its lowest level since 1919.
Nearby CBOT futures are now back below $A240/t again, and that is not where we need them to be. However, the market has this negative sentiment which is easily fed by any negative news from anywhere in the grains sector.