After record prices of $137 per cwt. the week before, cattle feeders started last week asking an unprecedented $140. Late Friday cattle in Northern feedyards traded at that level, though the bulk of cattle traded at $139, fully $2 higher than the previous week. In the beef sales in the North were posted at $221 - $222 per cwt., $4 per cwt. higher than last week.
Packers had to pay up to own cattle again last week, but their profit margins moved sharply higher as boxed beef cutout prices jumped as much as $14 per cwt. for the week. Choice cutout ended the week at $214.98, and the Select closed at $211.58. Both prices are all-time highs. The cutout advance helped packer margins improve to more than $100 per head.
Traders believe the rapid advance in cutout prices means two things: retailers need to restock beef in their cases; and that higher retail prices haven’t driven consumers away from the beef section.
Not to be left out of the party, stocker and feeder cattle found solid gains last week, especially early. The last good test of stocker and feeder cattle prices was December 20, but USDA Market News reported Corbitt Wall says fully $3 to $10 per cwt. higher since then, with routine instances of $20 higher.
"There are simply no superlatives left to try and describe buyer demand and never-before-seen price levels," Wall says.
Feeder cattle markets were even more active on fairly light receipts last week as dangerously cold temperatures kept many producers home. Still, Wall reported a "houseful of farmer-feeders" at Bassett, Neb., pushed 350 top-quality 638-pound steers to $211.34 per cwt.