Fed-cattle prices posted significant gains last week when packers came to the market on Thursday and Friday with bids nearing $87 per hundredweight. USDA reports prices for the week averaging $86.80, about a $2.20 improvement from the prior week. Last year at this time though, fed cattle were averaging around $91 per hundredweight.

An upswing in beef prices helped drive the market higher, as Choice boxed beef last week averaged $141.15 per hundredweight, a 2.5 percent improvement over the prior week.

With sale prices improving, last week’s Sterling Beef Profit Tracker showed feeding margins improving by more than $33 per head, although feeders still were $48.79 in the red for every head sold for the week ending Oct. 24. Feeding margins are likely to improve more this week with higher cattle prices and lower breakevens based on corn prices that moved lower through the summer.

Packer margins remain negative in spite of recent improvements in wholesale beef. The Sterling Beef Profit Tracker shows packers lost an average of $57.12 per head for the week ending Oct. 24. Those continuing losses are likely to keep a lid on packer bids for cattle, so while prices are improving, a dramatic fall rally is unlikely.

The corn market meanwhile, remains volatile as traders try to guess the effects of the late harvest on corn supplies. Last week’s average Omaha corn price was $348 per bushel, down 8.4 percent from the prior week’s average of $3.80 and 11 percent lower than the year-ago average of $3.91. USDA’s weekly Crop Progress report, which becomes available this afternoon, will show whether or not Corn Belt farmers managed to get much harvesting done in their wet fields last week.