CHICAGO (Dow Jones)--U.S. soybean futures are poised for a slightly lower start to Thursday's day session, as traders take profits on recent price gains in an effort to reduce risk exposure ahead of Friday's government crop report.

Analysts project soybeans to open 1 cent to 3 cents lower on the Chicago Board of Trade. In overnight trading, the January future, the most active contract, was down 1 1/2 cents at $12.94 1/2 a bushel.

"The majority of today's session will be spent getting positions in place for tomorrow's supply and demand report," said Karl Setzer, an analyst with MaxYield Cooperative, in a market note.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is scheduled to release its supply-and-demand report at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT) Friday.

"Historically the December release of this report has little impact on the market, but this year may be an exception however, especially if we have any changes to soybean balance sheets," Setzer wrote in the note.

Prices may trade in both positive and negative territory, with traders taking some profits off the table while bullish demand and global supply outlooks continue to support prices.

Strong export demand is seen buoying prices as strong demand from China, the world's largest soybean importer, drains U.S. supplies.

Analysts anticipate Friday's USDA supply-and-demand report will be positive for soybean prices, reflecting tighter supplies amid increased export demand.

A good U.S. export pace, with strong interest in U.S. soybeans, is seen tightening domestic carryout estimates in the USDA's December supply and demand tables. The consensus among analysts has the USDA fine-tuning export figures in Friday's report, with export projections bumped up as sales and shipments exceed the amount needed to reach the USDA's current export projections.

USDA's weekly export sales report released Thursday said total soybean export sales were a net 870,800 metric tons for the week ended Dec. 2, with 637,800 tons for delivery in the 2010-11 marketing year. Analysts had forecast sales between 700,000 tons and 1 million tons.

The USDA also reported 1.495 million metric tons were shipped last week, down 8% from the previous week. The primary destination was China, with 940,600 tons.

Soymeal sales were a net 193,400 tons. Estimates ranged from 125,000 tons to 200,000 tons. Soyoil commitments were a net 51,300 metric tons. Analysts had forecast sales between 15,000 and 40,000 tons.

Further support is seen from ongoing dryness issues in Argentina. It is a necessity for South America to raise large crops this year, and the slightest indication they will not causes futures buying as a result.

-By Andrew Johnson Jr.; Dow Jones Newswires; 312-347-4604; andrew.johnsonjr@dowjones.com