Cattle Outlook: Highs and Lows

02:41PM Sep 22, 2014
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August retail beef prices reach all-time highs, while cattle on feed continue to slide.
By: Ron Plain and Scott Brown, University of Missouri

Friday's cattle on feed report is slightly bearish due to a bit higher-than-expected placements. USDA says there were 0.8% fewer cattle in large feedlots on the first day of September than a year earlier. Placements were down 2.9% during August and marketings were down 9.6%. The average of pre-release trade predictions was for the number of cattle on feed September 1 to be down 1.0% with August placements to be down 4.0% and August marketings down 9.6%. The number of cattle on feed has been below year-ago each month since August 2012.

Retail beef prices set new records in August. The average price of a pound of choice beef in grocery stores was $6.24, up 28.9 cents from the month before and 88.9 cents higher than a year ago. This was the seventh consecutive record month for choice beef prices. The average price of all fresh beef at retail was $5.807 per pound in August. That was 25.7 cents higher than the old record set the month before. The August farm-wholesale price spread was 51.7 cents, the most since June 2006.

Boxed beef cutout value was lower this week. The cutout value for choice carcasses this morning was $244.54/cwt, down $5.99 from last Friday, but $52.09 higher than a year ago. The select cutout was $230.64/cwt on today's morning report, down $4.89 for the week, but $54.53 higher than a year earlier.

Fed cattle prices dropped this week on light volume. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis were $153.75/cwt, down $4.95 from last week's average, but up $31.05 compared to a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price for steers lost $4.60 this week to $245.23/cwt.

Cattle slaughter totaled 571 thousand head, down 3.5% from the week before and 9.5% fewer than the same week last year. This was the 29th consecutive week that cattle slaughter has been below the year-ago level. The average dressed weight for steers slaughtered the week ending September 6 was 889 pounds, up 12 pounds from the week before and 17 pounds heavier than the same week last year.

Feeder cattle prices were steady to $5 higher this week at Oklahoma City. This week's price ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight group were: 400-450# $300-$323, 450-500# $288-$314, 500-550# $254-$283.50, 550-600# $241-$264, 600-650# $239-$261.50, 650-700# $215-$248.50, 700-750# $215-$242, 750-800# $219.50-$230, 800-900# $214.50-$227, and 900-1000# $201-$213.85/cwt.

The October live cattle futures contract closed at $155.62/cwt today, down 65 cents on the week. December fed cattle settled at $158.70/cwt, down 55 cents for the week. The February contract ended the week at $160.25/cwt.

The September feeder cattle contract gained $1.13 this week to end at $230.60/cwt. October feeders closed at $228.72/cwt.