Forecasters See Mid-March Relief From Arctic Blast

The wave of arctic air surging across the lower 48 states will continue into mid-March before a slow warming trend emerges, according to meteorologists.  Average March temperatures threaten to be below average.\r\n   More rain, ice and snow is predicted over the next couple of weeks in the central and eastern Midwest and the beleaguered Northeast.  Parts of the Plains and western Midwest also will get light to moderate precipitation, and California is already receiving some much-needed rain.\r\n   Forecasters say the rain in California won’t end their drought, but every little bit will help.  This watering is especially helpful since it covers nearly the whole state, and the Sierras are to receive some new blankets of snow.\r\n   Grains are up in overnight trading as traders express nervousness about the developing situation in Ukraine.  Armed men took up positions at two Crimean airports, which heightened tensions.  So far, news reports say the facilities are functioning normally, but Ukraine’s interior minister warned of “a direct provocation.”\r\n   The gunmen were dressed in camouflage and carried assault rifles, but their uniforms had no markings so it was unclear who they were and why they were there.  \r\n   Crimea is a somewhat autonomous region of Ukraine with its own constitution and capital.  Its people speak Russian and have cultural ties to Russia, and Russia has a naval base there.  There have been calls this week for the area to secede from Ukraine.\r\n   Meanwhile, the acting government of Ukraine has reached out to the International Monetary Fund for aid, and officials there have responded somewhat favorably, news reports say.\r\n   So far, shipments of corn and wheat have not been interrupted by the political strife in Ukraine, but that doesn’t ease trader fears that such disruptions could occur.  And if it does, it will increase demand for grains from other parts of the world.\r\n   Soybeans are under pressure overnight amid a growing feeling among traders that the seasonal top is in.  Technical selling was reported, and Rich Nelson, research analyst at Allendale Inc., said in a teleconference Thursday evening that the market could be near its top.\r\n   “Markets usually peak when things are the most bullish,” Nelson said.  A lack of cancellations by Chinese importers, despite lower prices in Brazil, the washing out of a major highway there and a sale this week that would draw ending stocks below minimum working levels all should be bullish, yet the market could not hold record highs in a reversal day on Thursday and continue lower overnight.\r\n   Month-end position evening also could spark some extra long profit taking in soybeans.  However, the market could find support at chart waypoints until significant export cancellations are reported, analysts said.\r\n\r\nCASH CATTLE MARKETS QUIETER\r\n\r\n   Cash cattle markets were quieter Thursday after surging $5 to $7 per cwt Wednesday, despite heavy losses at the packing plants.  Sharp gains in wholesale beef prices and spot sales this week along with tight supplies of slaughter-ready cattle and the blast of arctic air in the Plains that could slow cash sales for the next few weeks were cited.  \r\n   Cattle traded this week at mostly $150 on a live basis up to $152, compared with mostly $144 to $145 last week.  On a dressed basis, cattle traded at mostly $240 this week, compared with about $230 last week.\r\n   The USDA reported higher beef cutout values Thursday, with choice boxed-beef at $221.41 per cwt, up $2.46, while select product was up $2.33 at $219.00.  The choice/select spread widened to $2.40, and there were 105 fabricated loads sold into the spot market.\r\n   Slaughter rates rebounded this week, with the USDA estimating 448,000 killed through Thursday, up 2.75% from 436,000 last week and 4.67% over last year’s 428,000.  \r\n   Live cattle futures Thursday saw Feb holding triple-digit gains while early gains in April were trimmed by profit taking.  Technically, the market remains overbought, ADMIS said.  This may limit further upside movement nearby.\r\n   The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Wednesday is $170.76 per cwt, up $0.49. The March Feeder Cattle futures contract settled Thursday at $171.82, down $0.17.\r\n