Cattle and beef prices continue to set new records, and not by small margins. 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 $142.45/cwt, up $2.91 from a week ago and up $18.25 from a year ago. Steer sales on a dressed basis averaged a record $227.27/cwt this week, up $5.79 from last week and up $29.51 from a year ago.

This morning, the boxed beef cutout value for choice carcasses was $231.75/cwt, up $17.14 from the previous Friday, up $31.10 from December 31, and up $40.73 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout is $228.95/cwt, up $27.47 for the week, up $32.54 from the end of 2013, and up $46.43 from last year.

During November the U.S. exported 216 million pounds of beef and imported 166 million pounds. Beef exports equaled 10.5% of the month's production and imports equaled 8.1% of production. U.S. beef exports during November were up 7.9% compared to the year before. Beef imports were up 11.3%. Exports have exceeded imports for seven months in a row.

The number of cattle imported during November was down 8.9% from the year before with 17.7% fewer cattle being imported from Mexico and 6.6% more coming from Canada.

The 5 market average price for slaughter steers was $132.20/cwt in December. That was up 80 cents from November and up $6.70 from December 2012.

Retail choice beef prices in December averaged $5.36 per pound. That was down 4.9 cents from the month before, but up 28.2 cents compared to a year ago. The farm to retail spread for beef prices was up 17 cents per pound compared to December 2012, with all of the increase at the retail level. The packers' margin was down 3.1 cents.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 598,000 head, up 5.1% from last week, but down 2.3% from the corresponding week last year. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on January 4 was 876 pounds, up 4 pounds from the week before but the same as a year earlier.

Feeder cattle prices at this week's Oklahoma City auction were $1 lower to $3 higher than the week before. This week's prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight were: 400-450# $230-$246, 450-500# $216-$230, 500-550# $204-$222.50, 550-600# $184-$214, 600-650# $173-$188.25, 650-700# $167-$180.50, 700-750# $160-$176, 750-800# $160-$171, 800-900# $155-$166, and 900-1000# $155-$159/cwt.

The February live cattle futures contract closed at a record $140.35/cwt today, up $3.65 from last week's close. April fed cattle settled at $139.30, up $2.33 for the week. June settled at $131.45/cwt, up $1.20. The January feeder cattle futures contract ended the week at $170.00/cwt, up $1.35 for the week. March feeders closed at $167.92/cwt.

Source: Ron Plain and Scott Brown