All retail meat prices except turkey set new monthly highs in January, and the outlook is for beef to remain strong while other meats decline as production increases.
Statistics from the Bureau of Labor and the USDA’s Economic Research Service show the average retail price for all fresh beef in January was $6.00 a pound, $0.96, or 18.9%, above January 2014’s $5.05. The 2015 price also was $1.68, or 38.9%, above the previous five-year average of $4.32.
Last year’s average retail beef price also rose steadily. However, January’s price is only slightly above December’s $5.98 average.
The ERS said beef and veal prices rose 18.7% last year as the US herd size hit historic lows and began the process of rebuilding after rains helped restore grasslands parched by years of drought.
But while drought conditions have eased in many parts of the Central and Southern Plains and analyst calculations point to hefty profits for cow/calf producers, herd rebuilding efforts are proceeding slowly. Rain has not produced the lush grasslands needed for full-on heifer retention, and many do not have the capital to invest in large numbers of first-calf heifers.
Even so, herd rebuilding was felt by the feedlots as the number of young cattle suitable for feeding declined at the auctions and prices went up.
Wholesale beef prices last year rose 24.3%, and the ERS predicts they will rise this year by 5% to 6% as farm-level cattle prices increase 4% to 5%.
HIGH PORK PRICES SEEN HOLDING
January retail pork prices also were record high at $3.99 a pound, up $0.23, or 6.12%, from $3.76 a year ago. The 2015 price was up $0.78, or 24.3%, from the previous five-year average of $3.21. The ERS sees pork prices rising slightly this year, but remain low enough to keep a lid on beef prices.
The ERS said high retail pork prices largely were the result of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus, which killed millions of baby pigs last year, thus reducing the number of hogs going to slaughter.
The disease has not been erradicated, but producers responded by increasing the size of their sow herds to produce more piglets. At the same time, they found ways to combat the disease directly and limit death loss. The combination is expected to yield more hogs going to slaughter for pork in 2015 and more pork for the market.
The ERS said hog prices in 2015 are expected to fall 17.8% below 2014, yet general economic inflation may pull pork prices slightly higher. The preduction is for wholesale pork prices to hold steady or rise about 1.0% in 2015 while retail prices rise 2% to 3%.
CASH MARKETS REMAIN LIGHTLY TRADED
Cash cattle markets remained mostly quiet Thursday. Limited action was reported Wednesday at $157 per cwt on a live basis and at $250 to $252 dressed. Cattle traded last week at $158 to $160 live and $254 to $258 dressed.
Bids Thursday were reported at $250 to $252 per cwt on a dressed basis, but live-basis bids were lacking. Live asking prices were holding around $162.
Spot beef prices showed signs of topping Thursday with midday quotes higher and afternoon quotes mixed. The choice cutout was reported at $247.03 per cwt, up $0.54, while select was $244.90, down $0.03.
The CME Feeder Cattle Index through Wednesday was $208.27 per cwt, down $0.34, and well below the Mar feeder cattle futures settlement of $200.30.