When Will Range-Bound Soybeans Break Out?

In the grain markets 2013 ended with a whimper and has continued to whimper through January. After a phenomenal harvest in North America, especially after the drought of 2012, both the corn and wheat markets remain mired in long-term bear markets. Soybeans have held on to maintain contact with the teens…more on that later.

Corn, especially, has been grinding lower within a tight range; its average true range on the daily charts has dropped below six cents a bushel. Chicago wheat has lost a dollar per bushel in the past two months thanks to large global stocks and a lack of strong demand. Technically, Chicago wheat is vastly oversold and can’t seem to bounce higher despite the threat of Midwest winterkill and recent purchases from the Middle East and Asia.

Soybeans Avoid the Doom and Gloom

Soybeans have managed to defy gravity, or at least stave off a full-blown bear market. The reasons cited are innumerable, with shear demand for North American soybeans as the prime culprit. Soybean orders for the current marketing year remain far ahead of the USDA estimates and the rates of the recent past. Traders keep expecting to see cancellations with the South American harvest around the corner but that isn’t happening, keeping prices buoyed.

Regardless of the reasons, the price tells the story.

After the front-month soybeans contract touched $14 a bushel during the end of August, it has settled into a dollar range between $13.50 and $12.50 per bushel. The bulls and bears are fighting for control and lately the bears have managed to keep the price below the teens with eyes toward a big South American crop. Recent rains in Argentina have calmed fears about heat-stressed soybeans and initial harvest reports from Brazil are pointing to expectation-beating yields.

The potential symmetrical triangle forming on the weekly soybean chart suggests a breakout coming soon.

The potential symmetrical triangle forming on the weekly soybean chart suggests a breakout coming soon.

Each week I keep thinking soybeans will give way to the 11s, but each week a new bullish storyline emerges, including:

  • The Devaluing of Argentina Pesos: With double-digit percent loses in the currency, Argentinian farmers may be reluctant sell soybeans.
  • Lack of Improved South American Infrastructure: South America has emerged as the world’s top soybeans exporting continent, with Brazil at the top. However, the ability to physically export the increasingly larger crop each year has not kept pace. Last year buyers waited months to get their beans thanks to logistical issues at Brazilian ports. The USDA attaché in Brazil called the logistical improvements “marginal” – not exactly instilling confidence in global soybean buyers.
  • China Using Soybean Import Contracts as Loan Collateral: Due to tightening credit markets in China and the government cracking down on shadowing banking, DTN’s China correspondent Lin Tan, speculates that private companies can gather “credit from the bank much easier by using soybean import contracts as collateral because it’s normal import business.” He estimates that China may cancel 73.5 million bushels worth of soy, but so far that hasn’t materialized.
  • Threat of February Dryness: Although South American growing regions have experienced solid rains lately, there remains risk premium in the market should the weather turn dry.

Despite these recent developments, longer-term data remains bearish. Oil World told Bloomberg World production of soybeans will be 287.8 million tons, up from an estimate in December of 287.6 million tons. Furthermore, the spread Between North and South American soybean prices provides a dollar-per-bushel discount for those buying from Argentina, for example, versus the U.S.

Heading into the next few months, I maintain a bearish bias looking for a downside breakout below the $12.50-60 range. However, should the situation continue to evolve and gain bullish momentum, I’ll be looking to enter above the December highs of $13.50 should we get there.

For now, I will sit tight and wait for the breakout.

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