By SANDY SHOREThe price of soybeans rose Wednesday on expectations that U.S. exports could strengthen after unfavorable weather affected the planting seasons in Argentina and Brazil. January soybeans rose 23.75 cents to finish at $14.7925 per bushel. Farmers have been coping with bad weather as they plant soybeans in Brazil and Argentina, both of which are huge producers of the protein-rich beans. That has caused some delays, although forecasts call for better conditions in the days ahead. Global soybean inventories have been tight after drought curbed U.S. production, but demand remains robust. "There is still the threat that the U.S. will sell all it has before too much longer, so the downside for prices could be limited," Jack Scoville, vice president at Price Futures Group, wrote in an email. In other trading, commodities were mixed as positive economic news was tempered by ongoing negotiations on the U.S. budget. The Institute for Supply Management said U.S. service companies grew at a slightly faster pace in November compared with October as sales and new orders increased. The report measures growth in a range of businesses from retail to construction companies. In addition, China's government pledged to maintain policies intended to strengthen its economy. China is a huge importer of commodities so analysts say demand could pick up if its economy improves. However, investors are cautious as Democrats and Republicans continue to wrangle over the budget. Without an agreement, automatic tax increases and government spending cuts will take effect Jan. 1 that some economists believe could put the U.S. into a recession. The uncertainty about what will happen has kept commodity prices choppy this week as investors evaluate headlines for clues about which way the negotiations are headed and assess their portfolios before the year ends. Gold for February delivery fell $2 to finish at $1,693.80 per ounce. In March metals contracts, silver rose 14.9 cents to $32.957 per ounce, copper rose 3.1 cents to $3.6865 per ounce and palladium gained $4.75 to $687.45 per ounce. January platinum ended up $1.30 at $1,584.20 per ounce.
Oil prices dropped after the government said inventories fell last week but remained nearly 11 percent above year-ago levels.Benchmark oil fell 62 cents to end at $87.88 per barrel, heating oil fell 1.33 cents to $2.9907 per gallon and wholesale gasoline dropped 5.12 cents to $2.6378 per gallon. Natural gas gained 16.1 cents, or 4.5 percent, to $3.70 per 1,000 cubic feet. In March agricultural crop contracts, wheat rose 3.5 cents to finish at $8.60 per bushel and corn gained 5.75 cents to $7.5775 per bushel.