USDA's January 1 cattle inventory survey said the herd was 1.4% larger than a year ago with beef cow numbers up 2.1% and dairy cow numbers were up 1.1%.
The January Cattle on Feed report said December placements into large feedlots were down 8.0% and December marketings were down 4.7%. This left the January 1 on-feed number at 10.69 million head, up 0.9% compared to a year ago.
The number of steers on feed at the start of 2014 was up 2.3% while the number of heifers was down 1.6% compared to a year earlier. In a sign of increased heifer retention, the 3.671 million heifers on feed were the fewest for any January since USDA started this data series in 2001.
The dollar continues to strengthen against most foreign currencies, making it harder for U.S. products to compete on world markets. Against major foreign currencies, the dollar was 14% more valuable in mid January than in mid July.
Boxed beef prices dropped sharply again this week. This morning the boxed beef cutout value for choice carcasses was $243.39/cwt, down $10.49 from the previous Friday, but up $15.42 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout was $237.03/cwt this morning, down $12.40 from last week, but up $8.45 from a year ago. The work slowdown at west coast ports appears to be an increasing drag on wholesale meat prices.
Fed cattle prices were lower this week on light sales volume. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $159.43/cwt, down 8 cents from last week's average, but up $13.63 from a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price for steers was $250.07/cwt, down $5.96 for the week.
Cattle slaughter this week totaled 563,000 head, down 2.3% from the week before and down 1.6% from the comparable week last year. The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on January 17 was 882 pounds, down 7 pounds from the week before, but up 12 pounds compared to the same week last year. This is the closest steer weights have been to a year ago since the week ending on August 30.
Feeder cattle prices at Oklahoma City were $10 to $15 lower for the third week in a row. Prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight group were: 400-450# $310-$312, 450-500# $275-$278, 500-550# $261-$285, 550-600# $230-$270, 600-650# $220-$247, 650-700# $206-$220, 700-750# $204-$212.25, 750-800# $192-$208, 800-900# $181.50-$198.50, 900-1000#, $170-$188.25/cwt.
The February live cattle futures contract today settled at $154.85, up $4.50 for the week. April fed cattle settled at $152.27/cwt, up $3.47 from the previous Friday. June fed cattle gained $1.85 this week to settle at $144.62/cwt.
The March feeder cattle contract ended the week at $205.20/cwt, up $3.38 for the week. The April feeder contract gained $2.85 this week to settle at $205.85/cwt.