Ag markets stay strong despite new COVID variant

AgweekTV's Michelle Rook and Randy Martinson of Martinson Ag Risk Management discuss how corn, soybeans, wheat, cattle and hogs held up to a wild day in the markets after the discovery of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

The Agweek Market Wrap planned to take a little break this week for the Thanksgiving holiday, but after a wild Friday in the markets due to the discovery of a new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, AgweekTV's Michelle Rook and Randy Martinson of Martinson Ag Risk Management were on hand to discuss what happened.

The existence of the Omicron variant became public on Friday, causing renewed fears of lockdowns and problems. Martinson explained that experts have said this variant is easier to catch and more resistant to vaccines than other variants of the virus.

"If it gets here, it might not be a very good one," he said.

The news of the variant, combined with the fact that fewer traders work during the holiday weekend meant that Friday was ripe for losses. The stock market in general and "outside markets" took a hit, Rook said. However, the ag markets proved durable.

Everything was down double digits to start Friday, but corn and wheat came back to post gains, and soybeans at least cut its losses, Rook said.


Martinson said corn stayed strong in part due to continued "fantastic" ethanol margins, dry conditions in Argentina, stronger exports than have been common lately and spillover from wheat's strength.

"It was an impressive day in corn considering crude oil was down as far as it was," Rook said.

Wheat gained strength from problems in Argentina, where needed rains "didn't shut off," meaning a lot of formerly high-quality wheat won't get harvested. High-quality wheat tends to come from the Minneapolis market. Martinson said Paris milling wheat has hit all-time contract highs, and the sociopolitical issues in Ukraine and Russia remain a factor in the wheat market.

Soybeans were down, but not as far as it looked they could be earlier in the day. Martinson and Rook said Brazil's expected large and early harvest is a continued factor for that market.

Cattle had a particularly strong week, especially considering the fears of the new COVID variant. Demand could be hit in the case of lockdowns, but the cattle market held strong, Martinson said.

"Because of tighter supplies, the cash market is going to kind of lead us," Martinson said. "Right now we're only going to see tighter supplies."

The strength looks durable, he said.

"Overall, it looks good for the cattle markets going forward," he said.


The same can't be said for the hog market, where a few factors combined with the new variant to make for a tough week. African swine fever cases in Germany and Vietnam, unimpressive exports, and the likely implementation of Prop 12 in California all were issues.

"If cattle are going to rally, hogs should go with it. But we struggled this week," Martinson said.

Prop 12 in particular could hit domestic demand, because the rest of the country will be beholden to California laws if they want to ship to California.

"If it's going to go to California, it has to be treated a certain way," Martinson said.

Martinson and Rook expect less volatility by Monday, after the holiday weekend ends and the regular run of traders returns.

"I do think that we'll see a little bit cooler heads prevail when we get into Monday," Martinson said.

To watch previous episodes of the Agweek Market Wrap, click here.

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