* Soybeans hit 10-day high, wheat near four-week peak
* China buying, higher demand drive gains in food prices (Recasts with wheat, adds quote in paragraphs 3, 4; updates prices)
By Naveen Thukral
SINGAPORE, March 23 (Reuters) - Chicago soybeans climbed to a 10-day high on Monday while wheat traded near last session’s four-week peak, with Chinese buying and expectations of higher demand keeping both markets on track for their fifth consecutive session of gains.
Corn slid for a second session on pressure from expectations of lower ethanol consumption amid a slump in oil prices as the escalating coronavirus spread curbs demand.
“The COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on food consumption is getting attention in the wheat market,” said Tobin Gorey, director of agricultural strategy at Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
“Global wheat supply was likely evolving to between neutral and a shade tight, so perhaps that is understandable. Moreover, we are moving to a time of the year when the wheat market’s uncertainty about 2020 crops is greatest.”
The most-active wheat contract on the Chicago Board Of Trade
added 0.1% at $5.39-3/4 a bushel by 0221 GMT, not far from Friday’s peak of $5.47 a bushel, the highest since Feb. 24.
Soybeans were up 0.4% at $8.65-1/2 a bushel, near the session high of $8.71-1/2 bushel, the highest since March 13. Soybeans firmed 2.3% on Friday. Corn slid 0.8% to $3.41 a bushel, having closed down 0.5% in the previous session.
Lockdowns and panic food buying due to the coronavirus outbreak could ignite world food inflation even though there are ample supplies of staple grains and oilseeds in key exporting nations, a senior economist at FAO and agricultural analysts said.
Chinese importers signed deals to buy U.S. corn and wheat in their first round of major purchases since Washington and Beijing signed a Phase 1 trade deal in January.
The U.S. Agriculture Department said on Friday morning that private exporters reported the sale of 756,000 tonnes of corn to China for delivery in the 2019/20 marketing year, and 340,000 tonnes of hard red winter wheat for delivery in 2020/21.
The agency said unknown buyers booked deals for 110,000 tonnes of U.S. soybeans. On Thursday, two trade sources with knowledge of the deal said exporters sold soybeans to China.
The spread of the coronavirus in South America has stoked worries about shipments of soymeal.
Large speculators increased their net short position in CBOT corn futures in the week to March 17, regulatory data released on Friday showed.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s weekly commitments of traders report also showed that non-commercial traders, a category that includes hedge funds, increased their net short position in CBOT wheat and increased their net short position in soybeans. (Reporting by Naveen Thukral; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)