Agriculture Futures Soar After Sell-Off

NEW YORK (AP) -- Agriculture futures shot up Monday, rebounding sharply after last week's commodities sell-off sent investors in search of bargain-priced wheat, corn and soybeans.

Other commodities rose broadly, with silver, copper and heating oil futures all advancing. Crude oil futures fluctuated, then closed lower.

A massive commodities sell-off led by liquidating hedge funds drove everything from gold to grains sharply lower last week, wiping out some of this year's huge gains in the futures market. Many big funds remained on the sidelines Monday, but new buyers jumped into the market seeking cheap prices for corn, soybeans and wheat, analysts said.

"There's some bargain-buying from the end-users of commodities - the livestock feeders, ethanol producers and exporters," said Jason Ward, analyst with Northstar Commodity in Minneapolis.

Wheat for May delivery surged 32.5 cents to settle at $10.20 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, after earlier rising as high as $10.62. Wheat fell below $10 a bushel last week for the first time since Feb. 13. It's still well off its all-time high of $13.495 a bushel, reached Feb. 27.

Other agriculture futures also traded sharply higher. Soybeans for May delivery added 50 cents to settle at $12.57 a bushel on the CBOT, while May corn climbed 17.25 cents to settle at $5.2475 a bushel.

Agriculture futures prices have surged this year, driven higher by poor harvests around the globe, dwindling world stockpiles and growing demand in India and China to feed people and livestock.

Also pushing prices higher Monday were floods in midwestern and southern U.S. states that could delay corn planting, the latest in a string of bad weather to affect crops.

"Going forward, weather is going to become more of a player than the funds," Ward said. "The growing season is about to start and traders will be paying closer attention to those seven-day forecasts."

In energy markets, oil futures fell closer to $100 a barrel as a stronger dollar diminished the appeal of energy and other commodities futures as a hedge against inflation.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery fell 98 cents to settle at $100.86 a barrel on the Nymex.

Other energy futures traded higher Monday. April heating oil futures fell 1.41 cents to settle at $2.9631 a gallon on the Nymex, while April gasoline futures rose 3.61 cents to settle at $2.6412 a gallon.

In the precious metals market, gold futures climbed more than $5 before pulling back slightly. Gold for April delivery dropped $1.30 to settle at $918.70 on the Nymex - its lowest level since Feb. 15.

Other precious metals rose. Silver for May delivery added 26 cents to settle at $17.110 an ounce on the Nymex, while May copper gained 4.9 cents to settle at $3.6225 a pound.

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