The December Cattle on Feed report said the number of cattle in large feedlots was down 5.5% at the start of the month. November placements were down 3.1% and November marketings were down 4.5%, largely due to one fewer slaughter day. The report was slightly bullish.

The House-Senate conference committee appears to be making progress on having the new farm bill ready for a vote in early January.

Retail beef prices set new record highs in November. The average retail price of a pound of choice beef was $5.409 in November, up 5.4 cents from the old record set the month before. The average price of all fresh beef in grocery stores during November was $5.014 per pound, up 4.3 cents from the record set the month before. In November, the average retail price of a pound of ground beef was $3.477. That was 2.7 cents higher than a pound of boneless chicken breast.

The weekly average fed cattle price dropped below $130/cwt for the first time since week ending October 18. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $129.46/cwt, down $1.54 from the week before, but up $3.29 from the same week last year. Steers sold on a dressed basis averaged $206.91/cwt this week, $6.91 higher than a year ago.

This morning, the boxed beef cutout value for choice carcasses was $196.06/cwt, down $1.89 from the previous Friday, but up $2.84 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout is $187.17/cwt, up 4 cents for the week and up $9.95 from the same day last year.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 613,000 head, up 0.8% from last week, but down 3.0% from the corresponding week last year. Through November, steer slaughter was down 1.3%, heifer slaughter down 2.0% and cow slaughter was down 2.4% compared to the first 11 months of 2012.

The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on December 7 was 877 pounds, up 2 pounds from the week before but down 1 pound from a year earlier.

Oklahoma City feeder cattle auction prices were mixed this week. Prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight were: 400-450# $211-$235, 450-500# $198-$219, 500-550# $191-$212, 550-600# $173-$201, 600-650# $155-$189.50, 650-700# $155-$179, 700-750# $157-$167.50, 750-800# $153-$166, 800-900# $146-$162, and 900-950# $146.50-$152.75/cwt.

The December live cattle futures contract closed at $132.52/cwt today, up 65 cents from last week's close. February fed cattle settled at $133.90, up $1.05 for the week. April settled at $134.50/cwt, up 70 cents.

The January feeder cattle futures contract ended the week at $166.97/cwt, down 10 cents for the week. March feeders closed at $166.92/cwt, which was 37 cents higher than the previous Friday.

Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown