(Recasts with closing prices, adds details on market closure during holiday)
By P.J. Huffstutter
CHICAGO, Dec 24 (Reuters) - U.S. soybean futures inched up on Tuesday, maintaining six-week highs reached the previous day, as grain markets remained cautious and positive trade news with China offset disappointing export sales data, traders said.
The market has high expectations of top-consumer China ramping up soy purchases following an announcement of a Phase 1 China-U.S. trade deal, which includes a commitment by Beijing to increase purchases of U.S. agricultural products.
But with the holidays quickly approaching, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s weekly grain export inspections showed disappointing corn exports and soybean exports at the lower end of market expectations.
“We continue to see debate in the market over the Phase 1 deal that is taking place between the U.S. and China,” said Karl Setzer, commodity risk analyst for AgriVisor. “Until the actual numbers are laid out, trade may be hesitant to base market positions on the proposal.”
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he and Chinese President Xi Jinping will have a ceremony to sign the first phase of the trade deal agreed upon this month.
China’s top agriculture consultancy said last week that the country will make good on a pledge to buy more than $40 billion of American farm goods.
The Chicago Board of Trade’s (CBOT) most active soybean contract ended the day up 0.32% at $9.36-1/2 a bushel.
Trade in CBOT grain futures closed early on Tuesday, at 12:05 p.m. CST (1805 GMT), and remain closed on Wednesday in observance of Christmas. Trade resumes on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. CST (1430 GMT).
Corn futures were little changed as traders squared positions ahead of the year-end holidays.
Wheat futures moved modestly higher on light technical buying and positioning ahead of Christmas, due in part to support from firming global cash prices.
The most active wheat contract settled up 0.28% on Tuesday at $5.41 a bushel, while the most active corn futures contract closed down 0.13% at $3.87-1/2 a bushel.
Morocco will suspend customs duty on soft wheat from Jan. 2 to April 30 to ensure regular supplies and stable prices in the domestic market, according to a draft decree seen by Reuters on Tuesday. The suspension of the 35% customs duty will be officially announced after a government meeting on Thursday. (Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago Additional reporting by Emily Chow in Shanghai and Sybille de La Hamaide in Paris Editing by Andrea Ricci and Matthew Lewis)