GRAINS-Prices dip from highs, but world watches U.S. drought
* Corn, wheat drop after 4 week surge * Blistering U.S. drought continues to support * Importers face painful wheat bills (Changes dateline, byline, adds fall in prices in European trade) By Michael Hogan and Colin Packham HAMBURG/SYDNEY, July 18 (Reuters) - U.S. grains and soybeans slipped on Wednesday as investors booked profits from a blistering rally, with some prices rising by almost 50 percent so far this summer as the U.S. Midwest felt the force of its worst drought in over 50 years. A marginal improvement in U.S. weather forecasts generated a pullback in corn, wheat and soybean prices but the attention of global grain markets is still focused squarely on boiling heat which has devastated crops in the U.S. grain belt. "We have seen a very strong rally to reach these high price levels and we are seeing a bit of a pullback on profit-taking which is not surprising," said Rabobank analyst Erin FitzPatrick. "But the drought in the U.S. is continuing to drive prices." "We are not seeing much improvement to the crop conditions in the U.S. and until we see better weather for the parched U.S. crops I do not expect that prices will fall very much." Chicago Board of Trade spot September corn fell 1.3 percent to $7.69 a bushel, having touched a 13-month high of 7.96-1/2 a bushel on Tuesday, close to the record high of $7.99-3/4 set last summer. Corn prices have surged around 45 percent this summer, with analysts expecting the U.S. crop to deteriorate further as the drought is expected to continue to ravage the U.S. In Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon announced on Tuesday that all 114 counties in the state have been designated as natural disaster areas due to the drought, making farmers eligible for government loans or other aid. Only weeks ago analysts had forecast the U.S. would this year harvest a record size crop of corn, a key animal feed. Now the smallest corn crop in five years is expected as U.S. crops shrivel. "The drought in the U.S. is continuing to drive prices up on the grain market," Germany's Commerzbank said in a report. "Although isolated rain showers are forecast for next week, meteorological services expect the heat-wave to continue into August." The drought has devastated fields at a time when a bumper corn harvest was needed to bolster three years of razor-thin stocks in the United States which are eating into profit margins for meat companies and ethanol producers. U.S. ranchers unable to meet soaring feed costs and whose pastures have been laid waste by the drought have begun reducing herds, which could translate into higher prices for meat next year. Chicago November soybeans were down 0.6 percent at $15.80-1/2 a bushel, still close to the contract high of $16.07 touched on Tuesday also on U.S. crop concerns. Chicago September wheat fell 1.2 percent to $8.86-3/4 a bushel. IMPORT BILLS RISE "The dramatic rise in grain prices in the past few weeks is shaping up to be a serious financial blow for wheat importing countries," one German trader said. "African and Middle Eastern countries are now facing painful rises in import bills." The latest example was Jordan, which cancelled an international purchase tender for 100,000 tonnes of wheat on Tuesday because of high prices but issued a new tender on Wednesday. "Jordan made its last wheat purchase in a tender on June 27, with the offers it received for wheat on Tuesday Jordan faced an extra cost of $4.5 million to buy 100,000 tonnes of wheat in just four weeks." "That is a lot of money for many countries to suddenly find in their state budgets." UNRELENTING HEAT Updated weather forecasts gave little hope for a quick end to the U.S. drought, now the worst since 1956. Indeed, there were signs that the drought, which has been centered in the Midwest, was expanding north and west, putting more crops at risk including in states such as Nebraska where large tracts of cropland are irrigated by groundwater and rivers. The unrelenting hot, dry weather is expected to force further declines in corn crop estimates in the U.S., the world's top exporter of the grain. A Reuters poll of 13 analysts suggested that the drought was continuing to shrink the U.S. corn crop, with yields likely to fall 7 percent from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate a week ago to 137.2 bushels per acre. Global wheat production may also suffer amid drought conditions across eastern Europe and parts of central Asia. Kazakhstan said it expects a below-average crop this year due to drought in its northern grain belt. The country said hot and dry weather would cut its grain crop to 14 million tonnes this year, a decline of 48 percent on last year's post-Soviet record and undershooting the average of 17 million tonnes over the last nine years. Russia may export just 10 million tonnes of wheat this year as grain exports fall by half this year from last year's record 28 million tonnes due to low stocks and a drought in the southern breadbasket regions, analyst SovEcon said on Tuesday. * Prices at 1049 GMT Product Last Change Pct Move End 2011 Ytd Pct Paris wheat 261.75 -4.50 -1.69 195.25 34.06 Paris maize 241.50 -3.50 -1.43 197.25 22.43 Paris rape 517.00 -5.25 -1.01 421.50 22.66 CBOT wheat 870.75 -14.25 -1.61 671.25 29.72 CBOT corn 761.25 -10.00 -1.30 654.75 16.27 CBOT soybeans 1602.50 -10.25 -0.64 1207.75 32.68 Crude oil 88.88 -0.34 -0.38 98.83 -10.07 Euro/dlr 1.2243 * All grain and oilseed prices for second position. Paris futures prices in Euros per tonne, London wheat in pounds per tonne and CBOT in cents per bushel. (Reporting by Michael Hogan and Colin Packham; Editing by Veronica Brown)
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