(New throughout; updates prices, adds quotes, changes byline, dateline, previous SINGAPORE/PARIS) CHICAGO, March 22 (Reuters) - U.S. wheat futures firmed Thursday on bargain-buying a day after forecasts for much-needed moisture pressed the Kansas City May hard red winter wheat contract to a seven-week low, traders said. Corn futures closed modestly higher while soybeans ended mostly steady. Chicago Board of Trade May wheat futures settled up 2-1/4 cents at $4.55-3/4 per bushel and K.C. May wheat was up 5-1/2 cents at $4.71. CBOT May corn ended up 1/2 cent at $3.75-1/2 a bushel and May soybeans finished unchanged at $10.29-3/4 a bushel. K.C. hard red winter wheat futures bounced after the K.C. May contract tumbled more than 70 cents within a week, from its March 15 high of $5.31-1/4 to Wednesday's low of $4.58-1/4. Wheat and corn drew support from an International Grains Council (IGC) forecast for global grain stocks to fall in 2018/19, with the bulk of the decline seen in corn. The IGC said total grain stocks would fall by 46 million tonnes to 560 million, including a 42 million-tonne drawdown in corn to 265 million tonnes. Wheat inventories were seen declining by 3 million tonnes to 253 million tonnes.
"That IGC report talking about a decline in grain stocks ... that is music to the managed funds' ears," said Rich Feltes, vice president for research with R.J. O'Brien. Funds stretched their net long, or bought, position in CBOT corn in the week ended March 13 to the largest since June 2016. CBOT May soybeans closed flat, paring declines late in the session while back months ended fractionally higher. Declining Argentina crop estimates lent support. The Buenos Aires Grains Exchange cut its estimate of the country's soybean crop to 39.5 million tonnes, from 42 million previously.
Worries about the fallout of a potential trade war with China, the world's top soy importer, hung over the market. President Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum that could impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese products, but only after a consultation period. Meanwhile, traders have begun shifting their focus to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's March 29 planting intentions and quarterly stocks report. Private analytics firm Informa Economics raised its forecast of U.S. 2018 soybean plantings to 91.5 million acres, a record high if realized, and lowered its corn forecast to 88.9 million acres, trade sources said. U.S. farmers planted 90.1 million acres of soybeans and 90.2 million acres of corn in 2017. The USDA postponed the release of its weekly U.S. export sales report by a day to Friday at 8:30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT).
CBOT settlement prices:
Last Net Pct Volume
CBOT wheat WK8 455.75 2.25 0.5 60713 CBOT corn CK8 376.00 1.00 0.3 148380 CBOT soybeans SK8 1029.75 0.00 0.0 86409 CBOT soymeal SMK8 368.00 3.50 1.0 39126 CBOT soyoil BOK8 31.88 -0.49 -1.5 58317
NOTE: CBOT May wheat, corn and soybeans shown in cents per bushel, soymeal in dollars per short ton and soyoil in cents per lb.
(Additional reporting by Naveen Thukral in Singapore and Sybille de La Hamaidein Paris; Editing by Vyas Mohan, Jon Boyle and Susan Thomas)