How to trade soybeans

Soybeans are a staple food for people all over the world, so demand tends to be high. Find out how to trade soybean markets, the factors that affect pricing, and some strategies you can use to trade these popular commodities.

Farming Source: Bloomberg

Soybean trading basics

There are three types of soybean products available to trade on the commodities market: soyabeans, soyabean oil and soyabean meal. The prices for each of these assets can vary greatly because of their different uses. Soybean meal is largely used in animal feed, while soybeans are used for human consumption in foods like tofu, soy milk, soy sauce and miso paste. Soybean oil is a vegetable oil, which is primarily used in food products and as a cooking oil.

With the expanding and continued development of many emerging market economies, it is likely that demand for soybeans will increase in the coming years, both for human consumption and for animal feed.

Historically, the price of soybeans has been tied to the supply and demand of other crops such as corn in the world markets. Corn grows in very similar conditions to soybeans, so farmers, particularly those in America, will often decide at the start of the growing season which crop they are going to plant for that year, depending on government subsidies.

You can take a position on the three variants of soybean futures with IG by trading CFDs.

What moves the price of soybeans?

As with most commodities, the prices of soybean products are affected by supply and demand. Some of the key drivers behind supply and demand for soybeans are:

  1. US production
  2. Strength of the US dollar
  3. Emerging market demand
  4. Alternative oils
  5. Ethanol subsidies.

Essentially, if more people want to buy soybeans than sell them, the price will rise because they are more sought-after (the 'demand' outstrips the 'supply'). On the other hand, if supply is greater than demand, their price will fall.

US production

The US is the biggest producer and exporter of soybeans, with 4.6 billion bushels of soybeans being harvested in 2017-2018.1 As a result, supply shocks such as adverse weather conditions, including hurricanes or drought in key American soybean-producing states, can impact production and thus limit the amount of soybeans available to the global market.

Strength of the US dollar

Similar to many other commodities, soybean prices are quoted in US dollars. This means that soybean producers receive lower pay-outs (nominally) for their produce when the US dollar is strong, and more money when the dollar is weak.

Emerging market demand

Emerging market economies such as India and South Africa need to import increasingly larger amounts of soybeans to satisfy the demands of their already large or growing populations. This increased demand may cause the price of soybean products to rise if supply remains the same in the coming years.

Soybeans 2018 consumers world estimates chart

Soybeans 2018 consumers world estimates chart

Alternative oils

Soybean oil has to compete with a lot of other popular oils on the market including rapeseed, linseed and cottonseed. Demand for these other oils can have an effect on the price and demand for soybean oil.

Ethanol subsidies

In order to boost ethanol production, the US government subsidises corn farmers. If the subsidies for corn were to end, more farmers might choose to grow soybeans which would increase supply, and this could bring the price of soybeans down.

Ways to trade soybeans

Futures contracts

The most common way that traders take a position in soybean markets is with a futures contract. Futures contracts enable traders to agree to the delivery of a certain amount of soybeans, soybean oil or soybean meal at a set date in the future for an agreed upon price. However, with a futures contract a trader may have to eventually take delivery of the soybeans. Unless they have adequate storage facilities, this could be problematic.

With IG, you can speculate on the price of a futures contract – without taking ownership of the underlying asset – with a CFD trading.

Options

Aside from futures, traders can use options to speculate on the price of soybeans. There are two types of options, puts and calls, and both give traders the right but not the obligation to buy or sell an underlying asset before a certain expiry date.

Contracts for difference

CFDs enable you to make predictions on the price movements of soybean markets without taking ownership of the physical assets themselves. CFDs can act as an effective hedge for your other active positions as they enable you to go short or long to benefit from market declines as well as increases.

When you trade CFDs on soybean markets with IG, you can decide whether to speculate on a spot price, which has no fixed expiry, or a futures contract. This gives you the flexibility to take a short or long-term view of your chosen market and to hedge your other active positions.

Learn more about CFD trading

Popular soybean trading strategies

  1. Gain spreads
  2. Crush spreads

Gain spreads

Due to the close ties between the price movements of corn and soybean crops, the corn-soybean spread is a favoured method of soybean traders to realise a profit. This involves determining how many bushels of corn are required in order to buy one bushel of soybeans. If the ratio of corn to soybeans is above historical levels then soybeans would generally be considered overvalued, whereas if the ratio is below historical levels then they may be undervalued.

However, gain spreads are thought to be indicative at best, and are not a set assurance that soybeans will be more or less expensive at any one time.

Crush spreads

The crush spread refers to the process of crushing soybeans to extract their oil. The crush spread is used to determine the difference between the price of the raw soybeans and its by-products such as soybean oil and soybean meal, which tend to be more expensive.

If there is a disparity between the price of raw soybeans and the by-products they can produce (once the cost of production is factored in), some traders will attempt to capitalise on this by going long on one market and short on another. This is done in anticipation of the markets adjusting over time.

What are soybean trading hours?

Location Trading hours*
Chicago 19:00 - 07:45 and 18:30 - 13:20 (Central time)
London 01:00 - 13:45 and 14:30 - 19:20 (UK time)
Singapore 09:00 - 21:45 and 22:30 - 03:30 (Singapore time)

*Hours are set by CBOT (CME Group) and may vary. Hours will shift between March and November as the UK and US change to and from daylight savings on different days, while Singapore remains on Singapore Standard Time (UTC+8) all year round.

Additional tips for soybean trading

Soybeans are a highly volatile market due to the effect that weather conditions or diseases can have on crop yields year on year. With this in mind, it is important for traders to keep an eye on factors that could affect the supply of soybeans.

This includes factors such as if other crops like corn are cheaper for a particular year, which would mean that soybeans would be in less demand for animal feed. Equally, if meat prices were to fall, then the demand for soy-based alternatives like tofu might experience a decline as well.

Traders can keep up to date with commodities market news with IG’s news and events page.

Five steps to trading soybeans

  1. Decide whether you want to trade soybeans, soybean oil or soybean meal
  2. Create an account and deposit funds
  3. Choose whether you want to trade CFDs
  4. Choose a trading strategy
  5. Open, monitor and close your first position

1 United States Department of Agriculture, 2017

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