GRAIN HIGHLIGHTS: Top Stories of the Day

Features Dow Jones Newswires

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Grain Futures Bounce on Exports; Soybeans Sag

Grain futures rose on Thursday, boosted by strong export sales.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that exporters sold 1.56 million metric tons of corn and 833,200 tons of wheat in the week ended Dec. 14, both above the range of pre-report estimates. Soybean sales were larger yet, at 1.76 million tons, but within expectations.

Corn futures for March delivery rose 0.6% to $3.51 1/4 a bushel at the Chicago Board of Trade, near a two-month high. March wheat futures rose 0.8% to $4.27 a bushel, the highest point in a month.

CBOT January soybean futures fell, however, dropping 0.6% to $9.48 3/4 a bushel.

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Conagra Returns to Sales Growth -- Update

Conagra Brands Inc. said new products and bulk-buying ahead of hurricanes that hit the southern U.S. helped the food maker return to sales growth in the latest quarter.

Chief Executive Sean Connolly said Conagra has won new customers by simplifying recipes and modernizing advertising for older brands like Healthy Choice frozen dinners and Slim Jim snacks. The company estimates that buying ahead of hurricanes Harvey and Irma drove most of the 2.3% comparable sales increase in the quarter, Conagra's first quarter of sales growth in more than a year.

Overall for the quarter, Conagra reported a profit of $223.5 million, up from $122.1 million a year ago. Adjusted to exclude one-time events, earnings were 55 cents a share, ahead of the 52 cents analysts expected, according to FactSet. Conagra shares traded roughly flat on Thursday after an early rally.

STORIES OF INTEREST:

Papa John's Founder to Step Down as CEO

Papa John's International Inc. founder John Schnatter is stepping down as CEO following a tumultuous few months at the pizza chain.

Mr. Schnatter will remain chairman, the Louisville, Ky.-based company said Thursday. Mr. Schnatter's fellow directors asked him to keep running the board but there is "no time limit" on his chairmanship, one person familiar with the company said.

THE MARKETS:

Livestock futures inched higher Thursday.

Traders were mostly positioning ahead of a series of government supply reports on Friday, analysts said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is due to release cattle on-feed and cold storage reports for November, along with a quarterly hog-and-pig inventory report, at midday ET.

Market observers mostly expect the reports to confirm a growing supply outlook for early next year, with large numbers of cattle and hogs being fattened for slaughter. For cattle particularly, analysts surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect the total number of cattle on feed as of Dec. 1 to rise 6.7% from a year earlier, with cattle placed in lots in November up 5.8%.

Cattle futures for December rose 0.2% to $1.19625 a pound at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange on Thursday after two consecutive days of losses.

Hog futures also rose Thursday, supported by higher cash and pork prices the prior day. CME February lean hog futures gained 0.3% to 68.575 cents a pound.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 21, 2017 18:08 ET (23:08 GMT)