By IAN BERRY
CHICAGO—Corn futures slid to a five-month low last week, weighed down by persistently weak overseas appetite for the U.S. crop.
A string of tepid export-sales reports for U.S. corn continued last week as importers balk at prices for the grain. Despite recent declines, prices for U.S. corn remain high in historical terms, prompting corn buyers to look elsewhere. In recent months, buyers, including Japanese importers, have turned to less-expensive sources such as Brazil, which ranks behind only the U.S. among corn exporters.
Corn exports for the crop year that began Sept. 1 are 50% lower than they were at this stage a year ago, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data. They are also 55% below the recent five-year average.
Bloomberg News Corn is loaded into a grain hopper in Le Roy, Ill. Foreign demand for U.S. corn is down due to high prices.
It isn’t that global corn demand has slumped. “It’s just U.S. corn is still the most expensive corn in the world,” said Jason Ward, an analyst with futures brokerage Northstar Commodity in Minneapolis.
Corn for March delivery settled at $7.02 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade Friday. Prices last week touched lows not seen since early July, ending the week down 3.9% despite a 0.8% gain Friday.
Corn futures have tumbled 16% since August, when they soared to a record in nominal terms as a severe drought pummeled crops in the Farm Belt. But $7 a bushel is still too steep for many foreign buyers, traders and analysts said.
Before the drought, prices were closer to $6, well above the levels of $3 or less common until the mid-2000s.
Among the buyers that have backed off lately is China, which emerged last year as a significant importer of U.S. corn for the first time in several years.
Total corn imports to China are expected to fall 54% in the current marketing year to 2.4 million metric tons from 5.2 million tons in the previous year, according to China’s National Grain and Oils Information Center.
China needs to import less because it had a huge corn harvest, the result of good weather and more land being planted with corn, market participants said.
Currently, local corn on a delivered basis in southern China costs around $409 a ton. That is cheaper than imported U.S. corn, which is being offered for around $457 a ton, including taxes.
The concerns about Chinese import demand have also fueled a swoon in U.S. soybean futures, which fell to their lowest level in a month last week. Importers in China canceled two huge export purchases last week. Soybeans closed Friday at $14.3075 a bushel, down 4.4% for the week.
Traders and analysts in Asia say Chinese buyers are likely to stay out of the corn market until at least April, but that it could be next October, when the new U.S. harvest starts rolling in, before large-scale purchases are made.
“China will only start large-scale imports when overseas prices have significant advantage, or are about 10% lower than in the domestic market,” said Zhang Hong, analyst with Cofco Futures Co.
—Owen Fletcher in Chicago, Chuin-Wei Yap in Beijing and Sameer Mohindru in Singapore contributed to this article.
Write to Ian Berry at email@example.com