Again this week, both slaughter steer prices and beef carcass cutout values blew away last week's record highs. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $148.45/cwt, up $5.80 from a week ago and up $25.72 from a year ago. Steer sales on a dressed basis averaged a record $238.86/cwt this week, up $11.59 from last week and up $40.93 from a year ago.

This morning, the boxed beef cutout value for choice carcasses was $238.27/cwt, up $6.52 from the previous Friday, up $37.62 from December 31, and up $50.67 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout is $237.22/cwt, up $8.27 for the week, up $40.81 from the end of 2013, and up $55.04 from last year.

Fed cattle prices on a live weight basis are $14/cwt higher than the peak prior to this month. Are prices nearing a top? That will depend on how consumers react when these record wholesale prices show up at retail. The seasonal peak in fed cattle prices and boxed beef cutout value typically come in April.

USDA's January cattle on feed report said the number of cattle on feed at the start of the year was down 5.4% compared to January 2012. The trade expected that number to be down 6.0%. Placements into feed yards in December were up 1.0%. The trade predicted down 1.9%. USDA said marketings were down 0.5% even though December steer and heifer slaughter was up 3.8%.

There were 438.123 million pounds of beef in cold storage on December 31. That was 2.8% less than the month before and 5.9% less frozen beef than a year earlier.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 597,000 head, up 0.5% from last week, but down 4.3% from the corresponding week last year.

The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on January 11 was 871 pounds, down 5 pounds from the week before and down 1 pound from a year earlier.

Feeder cattle prices at this week's Oklahoma City auction were steady to $3 lower than the week before. This week's prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight were: 400-450# $228-$237, 450-500# $210-$230, 500-550# $204-$224.50, 550-600# $186-$207.50, 600-650# $173-$191, 650-700# $168-$179, 700-750# $162-$175, 750-800# $160-$167.25, 800-900# $154-$165, and 900-1000# $148-$157/cwt.

The February live cattle futures contract closed at a record $143.40/cwt today, up $3.05 from last week's close. April fed cattle settled at $140.10, up 80 cents for the week. June settled at $132.12/cwt, up 67 cents.

The January feeder cattle futures contract ended the week at $170.70/cwt, up 70 cents for the week. March feeders closed at $168.87/cwt.

Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown