US beef and pork exports in February bounced a little from January, and improving West Coast shipping conditions hint at a further improvements in March.
The USDA reported total beef and veal exports in February of 177.980 million pounds, up 15.3 million, or 9.41%, from 162.678 million in January when West Coast ports were all but shut down by a work slowdown by dockworkers over a contract dispute.
The export value of February beef shipments was $535.3 million, up about 12% from a year earlier and 6% higher than in January.
February beef exports, however, were 4.820 million, or 2.64%, behind the 182.800 million in February 2014.
Pork exports in February amounted to 377.269 million pounds, the USDA said, up 29.527 million, or 8.49%, from 347.742 million in January. The February number, however, was down 42.414 million, or 10.1%, from 419.683 million a year earlier.
Pork export value was $470.7 million, down about 7% from a year ago, but 3% higher than in January.
AgWeb quoted US Meat Export Federation CEO Philip Seng saying the Feb. 20 labor contract agreement among dockworkers and port management sent positive signals to Asian buyers of US meat products. However, after four months of traffic slowdown, there wasn’t much actual relief from the shipping backlog until March. He expected further improvements in shipping when March results are published.
The January-to-February change went against the trend last year and in the previous five years, but leaves the industry poised to follow the seasonal trend higher into mid-summer. In fact, if it had to happen, the West Coast port slowdown couldn’t have come at a better time of year for the beef industry.
February’s higher pork exports exaggerated a seasonal tendency to rise from January but went against a steep decline last year. There is a seasonal peak in pork shipments in March, and settling the West Coast dockworker labor dispute helped the outlook for this year as well.
February exports faced challenges from a strong US Dollar, ample supplies from other markets, and continued barriers to market access.
The ICE US Dollar Index peaked in March but then fell sharply before stabilizing as it came into April. The steep gyrations to record highs and then back again could have caused some foreign buyers to remain on the sidelines. April’s relative stability, however, may bring some buyers back.
Issues of market access remain in place in many markets, especially in the EU and Russia where imports of US beef and pork are restricted because of feed additives or hormone implants.
CASH CATTLE REMAIN QUIET
Cash cattle markets in the Plains Wednesday remained quiet with bids and offers separated by a wide margin. Packer bids were reported around $160 per cwt on a live basis, compared with the bulk of last week’s action at $167 and feed yard asking prices nearer $170. On a dressed basis, bids were posted at $262 per cwt, compared with last week’s range of $265 to $267 and asking prices of about $270.
Wholesale beef prices were mixed Wednesday but continue to show seasonal tendencies. The USDA’s choice cutout was up $2.16 per cwt at $259.14, while select was off $0.18 at $251.05. The choice/select spread also continues to widen seasonally to $8.10. There were 98 load of fabricated product sold into the spot market.
The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Tuesday was $220.95 per cwt, down $0.28.