Corn is loaded into a truck during harvest in Malden, Illinois.
Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Corn futures are surging, up 20% for the month and nearing a 3-year high, as heavy rain forecasts across major farming areas pose risks to delay planting even further. The crop is leading a surge in most soft commodities this month.
Corn futures are up 4% on Wednesday, hitting their highest level since June 2016, while other key commodities like soybeans and wheat also trend upward. Soybean futures are up 3.5%, their highest level since April 16 and wheat futures are up almost 3%, hitting their peak since February 14.
“Now the market’s in a situation where you’re gonna have very low inventory levels, very slim plantings and by next spring it could be a real issue,” Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer of Bleakley Advisory Group, told CNBC’s Squawk Box Wednesday.
Corn futures are up more than 20% this month, while soybean futures have risen more than 2% in May and wheat futures are up more than 18% this month.
In a record-breaking wet spring, flooding in key farming regions have caused unprecedented delays to planting, causing lower-than-expected inventory levels. In corn, 58% of the intended planting has been done, compared to 90% at this point historically. For soybeans, only about 30% has been planted, versus about 65% normally, said Boockvar.
Going back to USDA data to 1980, “its never been this delayed,” he said.
“We see ongoing bullish price risks for corn if wet weather persists through May/early June, as farmers may reduce corn area and shift sowing towards late-planted beans, a bearish risk for the oilseed complex especially if the White House subsidizes soy production. We are more neutral wheat, which has been dragged higher by corn,” CitiGroup said in a note to clients earlier this month.
Alongside bad weather, the U.S.-China trade war is further complicating the planting picture. Before trade tensions heightened, China was responsible for more than 60% of soybean exports.
Last week, President Trump announced a $16 billion farm aid package to help farmers, a group that played a major role in Trump’s 2016 victory, who have been hit by the trade war. The farm aid legislation will compensate farmers, mainly in cash payments, for about 10-months of trade war loses.
The rise in commodity prices will also have an impact on restaurants, which have thin margins as it is, said Boockvar. Food prices are about 30% of a restaurant’s cost base with labor making up pretty much of the rest of the balance, he said.
“There’s not much room to handle a rise in food prices,” said Boockvar.
— with reporting from CNBC’s Michael Bloom.