USDA's April cattle on feed report was bearish. Placements during March were up 6.0% compared to a year earlier. The trade was expecting a 0.9% decline. March marketings were down 7.7%, in line with steer and heifer slaughter which was down 7.5%. March marketings were the lowest for any March since 1997. March cattle slaughter were the lowest for any March since 1991.

The number of cattle on feed in large feedlots April 1 was down 5.0% compared to a year ago. That compares to down 7.0% the month before and down 6.1% on the pre-release trade forecast average.

The number of steers on feed at the start of April was down 3.6% compared to a year ago. The number of heifers was down 7.6%. Only 35.5% of the cattle on feed were heifers. This is the lowest heifer share for any April since 2006 and indicates a shift toward cow herd expansion.

The amount of beef in cold storage at the end of March was up 4.7% from a month earlier and up 2.0% from a year ago.

On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $191.81/cwt, up $1.53 from the previous Friday and up $1.16 from a year ago. This morning the select carcass cutout was at $184.46/cwt, down 86 cents for the week. The choice-select price spread averaged over $7 this week, the most since early January.

Fed cattle prices were higher this week on light volume. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $127.43/cwt, up $2.20 from last week and up $7.64/cwt from the same week last year. Steer prices on a dressed basis averaged $202.60/cwt this week, up $2.60 from a week ago and up $8.91 from a year ago.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 625,000 head, up 1.6% from last week and up 1.6% from a year ago. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on April 13 was 851 pounds, up 4 pounds from the week before and up 14 pounds from a year ago. This was the 66th consecutive week with steer weight above the year-earlier level.

Oklahoma City feeder cattle prices were steady to $6 higher this week with prices for medium and large frame #1 steers: 400-450# $170-$177.50, 450-500# $166-$174, 500-550# $142-$179, 550-600# $142-$162, 600-650# $136-$153.75, 650-700# $123-$143.50, 700-750# $134-$139.60, 750-800# $127.75-$138, 800-900# $122-$133.50, and 900-1000# $116.25-$123.25/cwt.

The April live cattle futures contract closed at $127.85/cwt today, up $1.50 from last week's close. June fed cattle contracts gained $1.30 from last Friday to settle at $122.60/cwt. The August fed cattle contract closed at $123.27/cwt, up $1.62 from the week before.

May feeder cattle futures ended the week at $141.80/cwt, $2.60 higher than last week's close. August feeder cattle settled at $151.17/cwt.

Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown