U.S. beef exports during February totaled 181.66 million pounds, down 8% from a year ago. Each of our top four foreign buyers (Canada, Mexico, Japan and South Korea) purchased less U.S. beef than in February 2011. The only large export increase was in shipments to Russia. During the first two months of 2012, beef exports are down 6.2% compared to January-February 2011.

February beef imports totaled 168.729 million pounds, up 21.7% from a year ago. Australia, Canada, Mexico and Brazil each shipped at least 5 million pounds more beef to the U.S. than in February 2011. Beef imports during the first two months of this year were up 25.4% from last year.

USDA's April price and production update predicted more beef and slightly lower cattle prices in 2012 than did their March forecast. USDA is now predicting slaughter steers will average somewhere around $127/cwt of live weight this year. That is $0.50 below their March forecast, but $12.27 above last year's record average price.

USDA raised their prediction of 2012 beef production by 5 million pounds, increased expected imports by 220 million pounds, and lowered their forecast of exports by 40 million pounds. That leaves 265 million pounds more beef on the U.S. market than their March estimate. None the less, 2012 domestic beef supply is expected to be 823 million pounds less than last year.

The beef cutout value was a bit higher this week after 5 weeks of decline. On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $178.16/cwt, up 75 cents from last week. The select carcass cutout was up $2.36 from the previous Friday to $177.34 per hundred pounds of carcass weight.

Fed cattle prices were slightly higher this week. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $122.08/cwt, up 17 cents from last week and up $2.84/cwt from the same week last year. Steer prices on a dressed basis averaged $194.93/cwt this week, up 1.54 from a week ago and up $4.80 from a year ago. Steer dressed prices are $16.77/cwt above the choice cutout value.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 582,000 head, down 6.4% from the week before and down 9.8% from a year ago. The average dressed weight for slaughter steers for the week ending on March 31 was 836 pounds, down 8 pounds from the week before, up 15 pounds from a year ago, and above a year earlier for the 12th consecutive week.

Oklahoma City feeder cattle prices were mostly steady to $2 lower this week with the ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers: 400-450# $202-$205, 450-500# $193-$208, 500-550# $185-$203, 550-600# $179-$188, 600-650# $165-$178, 650-700# $156-$162, 700-750# $148-$153, 750-800# $144-$150, 800-900# $131-$144.25, and 900-1000# $128.85-$133.60/cwt.

Live cattle futures contracts were lower today but higher for the week. The April contract ended the week at $120.52/cwt.

Source: Ron Plain