Wheat breaches $12 for first time after biggest gain since 02

Feb 26 | Updated: Feb 27 2008, 06:17am hrs
Chicago wheat prices rose by the most in more than five years, breaching $12 a bushel for the first time as investors poured money into agricultural commodities on signs that global crop production isnt keeping pace with demand.

Global wheat stockpiles will probably fall to a 30-year low this year, while corn inventories are headed for the lowest since 1984, the US department of agriculture said on February 8.

Almost $1.5 billion flowed into farm commodities in the week to February 19, investment bank UBS AG said in an e-mailed report on Monday.

Wheat, soybeans, corn and palm oil are among commodities that touched records this month, stoking prices of bread, pasta and noodles worldwide.

The gains have driven up costs for food companies from Kellogg Co to Nissin Food Products Co and complicated efforts to curb prices in China, India and Malaysia.

Speculators keep jumping into the market as supplies are very tight globally, especially spring wheat, Takaki Shigemoto, an analyst with Tokyo-based commodity broker Okachi & Co. Dry conditions in some wheat-producing areas in northern China and also lent support, he said. Wheat for May delivery rose by the daily limit of 90 cents, or 8%, to $12.145 a bushel in after-hours trading on the Chicago Board of Trade, the biggest one-day percentage gain since October 2002.

Record prices, led by scarce high-protein varieties, have not deterred buyers. Export sales from the US, the worlds largest shipper of the grain, are up 56% since June 1 compared with the same period a year earlier.

Global wheat stockpiles may fall to 109.7 million metric tonne by May 31, while corn inventories may decline to 101.9 million tonne as of October 1, the US government estimated on February 8. US inventories of wheat will drop to 7.4 million tonne, the lowest for the end of the marketing year since 1948, according to the USDA. Hard-red spring varieties, traded in Minneapolis, are in short supply as dry weather curbed output last year in the US and Canada.

On the Minneapolis Grain Exchange, wheat for May delivery advanced $1.35, or 7.9%, to $18.4325 a bushel. The March contract, which has no limit because it is the closest to delivery, rose as high as $24.26 a bushel, after Monday becoming the first US wheat contract to top $20 a bushel. On the Kansas City Board of Trade, hard-red winter wheat for May delivery also rose as much as the 90-cent limit, or 7.7%, to $12.65 a bushel.

Q4 earnings at Kellogg Co, fell 3.3% as price increases failed to keep pace with the higher expense of making Eggos, Frosted Mini-Wheat cereal and cookies.