U.S. beef struggled in August, remaining below year-ago levels, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), contractor to the beef checkoff. August beef exports totaled 185.5 million pounds, down 18 percent from a year ago. Beef export value was down 24 percent to $498 million, the lowest in 18 months. For the first eight months of 2015, exports were down 11 percent in volume to 1.55 billion pounds and dropped 5 percent in value to $4.31 billion.

Beef export value per head of fed slaughter has averaged $286.51 this year, up $9.28 from the same period in 2014. Exports accounted for 13 percent of total production and 10 percent for muscle cuts, each down about one percentage point from the same period last year.

An already-tough global business climate became even more difficult on Aug. 11, when China’s devaluation of the yuan added pressure to the currencies of several key importing countries and large competitors against the U.S. dollar. Customer currencies moving significantly lower included the Korean won, the Taiwanese dollar and the Mexican peso. On the competitor side, the Australian, New Zealand and Canadian dollars have traded at the lowest levels since the global financial crisis, the Brazilian real hit record lows in September, and the euro and the Chilean peso are at their lowest levels in 12 years.

“Although our direct red meat exports to China are quite limited, the aftershocks of China’s currency devaluation and concerns about the global economy were felt across the world,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “This definitely impacted demand in many of our key export destinations.”

On a positive note, Seng said price gaps with some key competitors began to narrow in recent weeks. Australian cattle producers are finally rebuilding their herds after nearly three years of drought-induced liquidation.

“A long-awaited slowdown in Australian cattle slaughter finally materialized this summer, and Australian beef exports have begun to pull back from their record pace,” Seng explained. “It is important that we continue to identify opportunities to recapture and defend market share so that U.S. exports can finish strong in what has been a very difficult year.”

Import slowdowns in Japan and Hong Kong, weak Mexican peso hamper beef exports

Japan’s August beef imports from all suppliers were down 36 percent year-over-year, including a 31 percent drop from the United States, as its frozen inventories remain at very high levels. Through August, U.S. exports to Japan were down 9 percent in volume (323 million pounds) and 11 percent in value ($906.4 million) as lower prices for short plate and other popular cuts failed to stimulate demand. Prior to the recent slowdown in Australia’s production, Japanese importers continued to stock up on Australian beef, benefiting from lower tariffs through the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement and the weak Australian dollar.

Japan remains the leading destination for U.S. beef, however, as exports to Mexico are feeling the impact of record lows for the peso – falling 8 percent in volume (314 million pounds) and 4 percent in value ($712.1 million) in the first eight months of 2015.

Hong Kong took its smallest volume of U.S. beef in more than three years in August, as January-August exports dropped 25 percent in volume (155 million pounds) and 23 percent in value ($514.1 million).

On the positive side, beef exports to South Korea remained ahead of their 2014 pace through August, increasing 10 percent year-over-year in volume (185 million pounds) and 8 percent in value ($565.5 million).

U.S. beef continues to perform very well in Taiwan, with exports climbing 7 percent in volume (53.8 million pounds) and maintaining a record value pace ($220.9 million, up 16 percent). In both Korea and Taiwan, U.S. beef continues to expand its share of chilled imports, with increased retail featuring.

Although January-August exports to the Middle East were lower than a year ago, the region saw an uptick in demand in August for variety meats destined for Egypt, as well as muscle cuts to the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.

Complete January-August export results are available on the USMEF statistics webpage. For more information, please contact Joe Schuele at jschuele@usmef.org or 303-226-7309.

For more information about your beef checkoff investment, visit MyBeefCheckoff.com.