Beef imports exceeded exports during January for the first month since August 2010. Beef exports during January were the lowest of any month since April 2010. January exports were down 8 million pounds (4.4%) compared to a year ago, largely because Hong Kong purchased 7 million pounds less U.S. beef than in January 2011. January beef imports were up 43 million pounds (28.8%) compared to a year ago and the highest since June 2011.

In total, 8.6% of January beef production was exported. Beef imports equaled 9.0% of January production.

January domestic retail beef demand was up 8.1% compared to a year earlier; but export demand for U.S. beef was down 1.9%. Packer demand in January for fed cattle was up 3.8% compared to January 2011.

Fed cattle prices were steady this week with moderate sales volume. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $126.34/cwt, down 43 cents from last week, but up $12.05/cwt from the same week last year. Steer prices on a dressed basis averaged $202.23/cwt this week, up 41 cents from a week ago and up $17.45 from a year ago.

Beef cutout value was sharply lower this week. On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $189.92/cwt, down $5.90 from last week. The select carcass cutout was down $5.77 from the previous Friday to $187.94 per hundred pounds of carcass weight. The choice-select price spread is only $1.98/cwt. A year ago, steer dressed prices were $2/cwt under the choice cutout value. This week dressed prices are $12/cwt above the choice cutout value.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 619,000 head, down 1.9% from the week before, but the same as a year ago. The average dressed weight for slaughter steers for the week ending on March 3 was 850 pounds, down 4 pounds from the week before, but up 21 pounds from a year earlier. Weights have been above year-earlier for eight straight weeks. Year-to-date beef production is down 3.7%.

Feeder cattle prices this week were generally steady to weak with more auctions lower than higher. Oklahoma City prices were mostly steady with the ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers: 400-450# $208-$217, 450-500# $204-$210.50, 500-550# $177.75-$204, 550-600# $179-$196.50, 600-650# $167-$182.75, 650-700# $161.50-$171, 700-750# $155-$166, 750-800# $149.25-$164.35, 800-900# $140-$154.75, and 900-1000# $133.50-$142/cwt.

The April live cattle futures contract settled at $125.30/cwt today, down 72 cents compared to last Friday. The June contract closed at $122.70/cwt, down 90 cents for the week. August fed cattle settled at $124.52 and October at $129.87/cwt.

March feeder cattle futures lost 52 cents this week to settle at $153.40/cwt. The April contract ended the week at $154.30/cwt, down $1.55 from the previous Friday.

Source: Ron Plain