Commodities: Commotion in the Bean Pit

In the middle of the octagonal bean pit in Chicago's Board of Trade, hundreds of beige-jacketed traders snouted and jabbed out hand signals to make their trades. Amid the pandemonium, messengers dashed about picking up written confirmations. In the offices of the commission houses, clerks clocked up overtime hours; at one firm they slept only three hours in three days.

The cause of all this excitement was the simple soybean, the hottest item in the seething U.S. commodities market. Last week futures for soybeans, soybean oil and soybean meal set seasonal records after...

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