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Cattle Outlook: Exports, Futures Hold Strong

April 14, 2014
Exports continue to 'beef' up a record cattle market.  

Exports continue to 'beef' up a record cattle market.
By: Ron Plain and Scott Brown, University of Missouri

U.S. beef exports were up 3.2% in February compared to a year ago thanks to increased shipments to Japan, Mexico and Hong Kong. Imports of beef into the U.S. were down 2.0% in February with less beef coming in from Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico. During February, beef exports equaled 10.22% of production and imports equaled 9.56% of production. This was the tenth consecutive month with exports greater than imports, which is encouraging given that U.S. beef prices are at record levels.

Cattle imports were up 0.3% in February with fewer coming north from Mexico, but more coming south from Canada.

Domestic meat demand in February was up 2.7% with beef demand up 0.6% compared to a year ago. Export demand for U.S. beef was up 10.7% in February.

The April WASDE raised both USDA's forecast of 2014 beef production and their price forecast for the year. They now predict 2014 beef production will be down 4.5% from last year to the lowest level since 2004. Their forecast for fed cattle prices is for the average to be somewhere between $144/cwt and $151/cwt. That is far above last year's record of $125.89/cwt.

Fed cattle sales were extremely light again this week. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $149.32/cwt, down $2.11 from last week's record price, but up $22.09 from a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price for steers was $240.39/cwt.

Boxed beef prices were lower again this week. This morning the boxed beef cutout value for choice carcasses was $222.27/cwt, down $6.90 from the previous Friday. The select carcass cutout is $212.96/cwt, down $5.49 from last week.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 573,000 head, down 1.7% from the previous week and down 5.6% from the corresponding week last year. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on March 29 was 852 pounds, down 4 pounds from the week before, but up 1 pound from a year earlier.

Feeder cattle prices at this week's Oklahoma City auction were mostly steady to $3 higher than the week before. This week's prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight were: 400-450# $210-$255.50, 450-500# $220-$244, 500-550# $207-$224, 550-600# $198-$223, 600-650# $186-$215, 650-700# $180-$207.50, 700-750# $173.50-$187, 750-800# $167-$179, 800-900# $161-$174, and 900-1000# $154-$163/cwt.

Cattle futures were higher this week. The April live cattle futures contract closed at $144.85/cwt today, up $1.80 from last week's close. June fed cattle settled at $135.77, up 97 cents for the week. August settled at $133.77/cwt, up $1.50 from the previous Friday. October cattle closed at $138.22/cwt.

Feeder cattle futures were also higher for the week. The April feeder cattle contract ended the week at $179.50/cwt, up $1.80 for the week. May feeders closed at $180.07/cwt, up $1.57 from the previous Friday.

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