Global cattle and beef markets are expected to see continued strength this year, with the potential for new record high prices. That’s the conclusion of economists at Rabobank, who also believe “there are limited downside price risks” for the first quarter of 2012 as they expect a “slightly larger global supply amidst a back drop of slowing winter demand in the Northern Hemisphere.”

According to Rabobank Beef Quarterly, cattle prices “for the rest of the year should post record highs as markets transition from the short term supply bulge (primarily U.S. and Brazil) to materially lower supplies.”

Longer term, Rabobank anticipates global meat protein supplies will struggle to keep up with rising income and population growth in important emerging markets, which will raise “volume risks to processors and price risks to everyone from feeder cattle buyers to consumers.”

Rabobank produces analysis of agricultural markets that is available to customers of Rabo AgriFinance, which is a premier provider of financial services for agricultural producers and agribusinesses in the United States.

Rabobank Beef Quarterly provides analysis of various global beef markets, including the U.S., Brazil, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the European Union, China, Mexico, Uruguay and Japan.

Overall, the global outlook for beef is similar to the U.S. outlook – tight supplies are producing good times for ranchers while feedlots and packers face challenges.

“Ranchers are set to enjoy some of their best margins in years,” according to Rabobank Beef Quarterly. “Conversely, feedlots and packers should be concerned about both higher prices and limited availability of inputs exacerbating low capacity utilization problems and causing margin compression.”

Rabobank analysts also believe packers around the world will continue to struggle to pass higher prices on to consumers. “Global economic growth has been inconsistent, with growth slowing in many markets. In the world’s largest consumer markets, Europe and the U.S., growth has been particularly slow. We have not identified it yet, but there is a limit to what consumers will pay for retail beef.”

While Rabobank sees 2012 as a good year for U.S. beef producers, it says the positive outlook for beef companies in Brazil stands out. “Of the top producer countries, Brazil is the only one that is expected to show a combination of increased supply of animals for slaughter, robust domestic demand and a growth in exports.”