(Recasts; updates prices, adds quotes, changes byline, changes dateline from previous LONDON)
By Julie Ingwersen
CHICAGO, Nov 21 (Reuters) - U.S. soybean futures fell to their lowest in almost two months on Thursday as uncertainty about progress in U.S-China trade talks overshadowed support from stronger-than-expected weekly U.S. export sales, analysts said.
Wheat futures also declined, backing down from a two-week high, but corn futures rose on signs of improving export and domestic demand.
As of 12:40 p.m. CST (1840 GMT), Chicago Board of Trade January soybeans were down 3 cents at $9.02 per bushel after dipping to $9.00-1/2, the contract’s lowest since Sept. 30. CBOT December wheat was down 4 cents at $5.11-1/2 a bushel while December corn was up 2-1/2 cents at $3.69-1/4 a bushel.
Soybeans slid closer to the $9-a-bushel mark, pressured by doubts about prospects for a U.S. trade deal with China, by far the world’s largest soy importer.
Completion of a “phase one” U.S.-China trade deal could be delayed until next year, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing trade experts and people close to the White House.
But Chinese officials on Thursday said Beijing was willing to work with the United States to resolve core trade concerns.
“Predicting the U.S.-China trade deal seems to be a mug’s game,” said Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank.
CBOT soybean futures briefly turned higher after the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported weekly U.S. soybean export sales at more than 1.5 million tonnes, topping trade expectations.
But futures declined as traders returned their focus to U.S.-China trade uncertainty and improving crop weather in South America.
CBOT corn futures firmed a day after hitting a two-month low, with analysts noting demand from exporters and domestic processors. The USDA reported corn export sales in the latest week at 788,000 tonnes, up 49% from the prior four-week average.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said weekly U.S. output of corn-based ethanol rose for an eighth straight week.
“I think we have seen a bottom in corn demand for ethanol, and for exports ... The demand story in corn probably gets a little better from here,” said Joe Vaclavik, president of Standard Grain, a Tennessee-based brokerage.
Rallies in corn may be capped in the coming days by cash sales from farmers holding grain that must be priced before the delivery phase for the CBOT December futures contract begins on Nov. 29.
“There are a lot of farmers who have basis contracts or other contracts that are tied to these December futures. They are going to be forced to price them between now and first notice day, which is next Friday,” Vaclavik said.
Wheat futures turned lower on technical selling and profit-taking after the CBOT December contract reached $5.19-1/2 a bushel, its highest since Nov. 7.
Additional reporting by Nigel Hunt in London, Naveen Thukral in Singapore; Editing by Mark Potter and Steve Orlofsky