Last year, the U.S. exported 2.45 billion pounds of beef and imported 2.22 billion pounds. Although down 11.9% from the year before, 2012 beef exports were the fourth highest yearly total ever behind 2011, 2003, and 2000. Beef imports were 7.9% higher than in 2011, but were still the second lowest since 1996.

The top 7 foreign destinations for U.S. beef in 2012 were Canada, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Hong Kong, Russia, and Vietnam, respectively. Australia, Canada and New Zealand were the source for 76% of our beef imports with 11% coming from Mexico. Beef exports equaled 9.42% of U.S. production. Beef imports equaled 8.53% of production.

The value of beef exports was $4.8 billion, a record. Exports of beef variety meats totaled $703 million, also a record. The nation exported an average of $142.56 worth of beef and $20.85 of beef byproducts for each head of cattle and calves slaughtered in the U.S. in 2012.

Live cattle imports in 2012 were up 6.9% from the year before. In total, 1.5 million cattle were imported from Canada and 786 thousand from Mexico. The U.S. exported 191,064 live cattle last year.

Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $122.79/cwt, down $3.73 from last week, but up 42 cents from the same week last year. On a dressed weight basis steers averaged $195.86/cwt this week, down $2.55 from the week before, but up 2 cents from a year ago.

Beef carcass cutout values were a bit higher this week. On Friday morning, the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $182.83/cwt, up 56 cents from last Friday, but down $7.39 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout was $180.71/cwt, up 64 cents for the week, but down $4.72 year-over-year.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 596,000 head, up 0.5% from the week before, but down 2.3% from the same week last year. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on February 2 was 872 pounds, down 1 pound from the week before, but up 12 pounds from a year ago. This was the 56th consecutive week with steer weights above the year-earlier level. The average steer dressed weight in 2012 was 2.2% heavier than in 2011. USDA has been increasing their estimate of 2013 beef production in part because of the expectation that weights will continue to run above the year-ago level.

Feeder cattle prices at this week's Oklahoma City auction were steady to $6 lower than last week. Their price ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers were: 450-500# $177-$185, 500-550# $173-$186, 550-600# $161-$173, 600-650# $154-$166, 650-700# $137.50-$154, 700-750# $143-$146, 750-800# $137-$143, 800-900# $133-$139.25, and 900-1000# $128-$135.50/cwt.

The February fed cattle futures contract ended the week at $126.50, up 5 cents from the week before. The April contract gained 33 cents this week to settle at $130.45 on Friday.

Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown