Cattle Outlook: April Beef Down From March Highs But Up $19 on Last Year

US - Market reports tell a story of tight cattle supplies through April as feedlot placements and sales lowered and retail values hit record highs.
calendar icon 19 May 2014
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Ron Plain
Ron Plain

This is according to University of Missouri economists Ron Plain and Scott Brown who add that the number of cattle on feed in large feedlots at the start of the month was down 1.0 per cent compared to last year.

This was the 21st consecutive month that the on-feed number has been below the year earlier level, writes Professor Plain. USDA said April placements of cattle into feedlots were down 4.9 per cent.

April marketings by feedlots were down 2.0 per cent, April's Cattle on Feed report said.

The average of pre-release predictions was for April placements to be down 3.2 per cent , April marketing down 2.1 per cent and the May 1 on feed number to be down 0.8 per cent. The lower placements makes the report slightly bullish.

Retail beef prices were record high in April for the third consecutive month. The average price of choice beef in grocery stores was $5.871 per pound.

That was 15.1 cents higher than the month before and 64.7 cents higher than a year ago. The average retail price for all fresh beef was $5.496/lb, also record high for the third month in a row.

The 5 market average fed cattle price during April, $147.20/cwt., were down $2.60 from the record set the month before, but up $19.70 compared to April 2013.

USDA said that 23 per cent of U.S. pastures were in poor or very poor condition on May 11, up 1 point from the previous week, but down from 33 per cent poor or very poor a year ago.

Fed cattle sales volume was good this week. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $146.95/cwt, down $3.07 from last week's average, but up $22.16 from a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price for steers was $234.06/cwt, down $1.99 for the week, but up $34.30 from the same week last year.

Beef prices were higher this week. This morning the boxed beef cutout value for choice carcasses was $226.72/cwt, up $2.83 from the previous Friday and up $17.76 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout is $217.00/cwt, up $3.83 from last week.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 591,000 head, down 1.5 per cent from the previous week and down 9.6 per cent from the corresponding week last year.

Cattle slaughter is on a pace to be the lowest for any May in over 25 years. The average dressed weight for steers slaughtered the week ending on May 3 was 840 pounds, down 1 pound from the week before, but up 1 pound compared to the same week last year.

Feeder cattle prices at this week's Oklahoma City auction were mostly $2 to $4 higher. This week's prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight were: 400-450# $228.50-$257, 450-500# $220-$243.50, 500-550# $222-$234, 550-600# $205-$223, 600-650# $194-$218, 650-700# $186.50-$202, 700-750# $184-$197.50, 750-800# $181-$193.50, 800-900# $172-$186.35, and 900-1000# $162-$173.50/cwt.

The June live cattle futures contract closed at $137.90/cwt today, down 15 cents from last week's close. August fed cattle settled at $138.37, up 17 cents for the week. The May feeder cattle contract ended the week at $187.30/cwt, up $2.73 for the week. August feeders closed at $193.32/cwt.

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