US soybean futures climbed for a second straight session on Thursday and touched a seven-month high, buoyed by good export sales, due to a drought-damaged South American crop, and by short-covering ahead of the holiday weekend.
Stronger-than-expected weekly export sales data underpinned corn, although gains in nearby months were capped by unwinding of bull spreads and profit-taking ahead of the Easter weekend.
Wheat ended lower as early short-covering support, which followed a sharp fall the previous session, faded and by pressure from a firmer dollar.
Volumes were light and many traders squared positions ahead of the Good Friday holiday in the United States and a government supply and demand report on Tuesday.
European grain futures markets are closed on Friday and Monday for Easter.
The US Department of Agriculture will update its monthly world supply and demand estimates and ending stocks forecasts next Tuesday.
"A lot of this is just technical short-covering in very thin volume," said Karl Setzer, analyst at MaxYield Co-operative in West Bend, Iowa.
"The exporters were pretty strong this morning in the corn, beans and wheat.
Crude oil is up more than a dollar and that's offsetting the slight gain we're seeing in the dollar," he said.
soybean prices touched a seven-month high amid a steady stream of downwardly revised South American crop forecasts and expectations for more demand for US soy in export markets.
"We continue to see smaller production estimates out of South America, and China is back from a holiday.
They were active in the night markets and are probably looking to buy again," said Alan Kluis, president of Kluis Commodities.
Analytical firm Informa Economics on Wednesday pegged the Brazilian soy crop at 66.5 million tonnes, down from its prior estimate of 68 million, and cut its Argentine soybean production outlook to 45 million tonnes from 47.5 million.
Also supportive was US Department of Agriculture data released Thursday showing US soybean export sales topping 1 million tonnes last week, above trade expectations.
Chicago Board of Trade May soybeans gained 14-1/2 cents, or 1 percent, to settle at $14.34 a bushel, after matching a seven-month high of $14.34-1/4.
soybeans climbed 2.2 percent in the week in a second consecutive weekly gain.
Corn and wheat both opened higher, supported by larger-than-expected export sales in Thursday's weekly USDA report and short-covering ahead of the weekend, but prices for both grains later retreated in thin volume.
Wheat had also garnered additional support early in the session on news that top importer Egypt bought 115,000 tonnes of US soft red winter wheat.
Corn export sales topped trade expectations last week, a period when prices plunged to two-month lows.
The largest weekly corn sales in 5-1/2 months included 394,000 tonnes to China, that country's biggest purchase since October.
The first frost of the US planting season was forecast for overnight on Thursday, but early-seeded corn of what could be a record US crop was not expected to be at risk.
"It's something that bears watching, but most of the early-planted corn is far enough south that I think it will dodge any damage," said Shawn McCambridge, analyst with Prudential Bache.
The spread between old-crop corn futures and new-crop months narrowed further after hitting a seven-month high earlier this week.
CBOT May corn rose 1-1/2 cents to $6.58-1/4 per bushel, up 0.2 percent on the day and up 2.2 percent from a week ago.
New-crop December futures rose 6 cents, or 1.1 percent, to settle at $5.50-1/4.
CBOT May wheat fell 3/4 cent, or 0.1 percent, to settle at $6.38-1/2 a bushel and endded the week down 3.4 percent Managed funds bought an estimated net 3,000 corn contracts and 5,000 soybean contracts on Thursday, and sold a net 2,000 wheat contracts, trade sources said.