The amount of beef in cold storage at the end of February, 468 million pounds, was up 1.3% from the month before and up 15.6% compared to a year earlier. Frozen beef supplies are the largest since January 2009. As a general rule, increasing stocks of frozen beef is a negative for price, but it doesn't appear to be hurting prices this year.
Another potential negative is the rising price of energy. The national average gasoline price went above $3.60 per gallon in mid March. May crude oil futures are at $105 per barrel. High gasoline prices are a negative for meat demand.
Fed cattle prices were uneven this week. The 5-area daily weighted average price for slaughter steers sold through Thursday of this week on a live weight basis was $114.25/cwt, down 4 cents from last week. Steers sold on a dressed weight basis this week averaged $187.51/cwt, $2.73 higher than the week before. This week last year, slaughter steer prices averaged $96.02/cwt live and $152.13/cwt dressed.
The boxed beef cutout value of choice carcasses set a record of $189.05/cwt on Tuesday before backing down at week's end. On Friday morning the choice boxed beef carcass cutout value was $185.91/cwt, down $1.10 for the week. The select cutout was down 22 cents from the previous Friday to $185.65 per hundred pounds of carcass weight. The choice-select spread is very low once again.
This week's cattle slaughter totaled 632,000 head, up 2.3% from the week before and up 1.3% compared to the same week last year. Steer carcass weights averaged 829 pounds during the week ending March 12. That was the same as the week before, but 6 pounds heavier than a year ago.
Cash bids for feeder cattle around the country this week were uneven with a range of $3 lower to $4 higher. Oklahoma City prices were steady to $4 higher than the previous week. The price ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers were: 400-450# $166.50-$179, 450-500# $159.50-$169, 500-550# $158-$163.85, 550-600# $150-$159, 600-650# $144.75-$156.50, 650-700# $136.50-$146.25, 700-750# $128-$140.25, 750-800# $126.85-$131, 800-900# $119-$132, and 900-1000# $114.25-$120.25/cwt.
The number of cattle on feed at the start of March was up 5.0% compared to a year ago. Placements of cattle into feed yards during March were down 0.6% and marketings were up 4.5%. February marketings were the highest of any February since 2002 and placements were the lowest of any February since 2007. Look for placements to be below the year-ago level for the next several months.
Cattle futures have regained all that was lost in the Japan scare. The April fed cattle futures contract ended the week at $118.60/cwt, up $6.95 from a week ago. The June contracted closed out the week up $5.95 from seven days earlier at $117.75/cwt. August ended the week at $119.25 and December settled at $123.40.