Just last year, beef exports were climbing, producers and analysts alike were crowing, and things looked rosy.
Then the dollar strengthened, the global economy weakened and beef exports fell 18 percent from August 2014 to August 2015. Beef export value was down 24 percent to $498 million, the lowest in 18 months.
However, the U.S. Meat Export Federation says beef export value per head was up more than $9 this August versus one year ago, at $286.51 per head. This is surely the result of high-priced beef on a per-pound basis. Together with a stronger dollar, this helps explain why export volume is down.
Private economist and consultant Bill Helming has said for years the dollar will continue appreciating because, as he explains it, the U.S. dollar is the cleanest dirty shirt in the world. Put another way, he is saying the U.S. economy is in a mess, but the rest of the world is worse. Therefore, their money pales against ours.
Most of us understand by now that when our money rises in value against other currencies, our trading partners can buy less of our goods with their “dollars” and we can buy more of their goods with our dollars.
This was driven home to me on a trip to South Africa in 2009, where I was forced to deal in rand. At that time a dollar was worth a little more than 12 rand. I was not carrying large amounts of cash because I’d been told my credit card would work anywhere. The place this hurt me the most was at gas stations, which would not accept credit cards. The first time I filled up and they wouldn’t accept my card or my traveling companion’s, I was forced to go inside and do a cash withdrawal via my credit card. They would accept a cash withdrawal but not charge gasoline. I suspect they got a kickback from it.
When I told the girl I wanted 600 rand, her eyes nearly bugged out of her head. That was only about $50, plus the fee, but I guess it seemed like a lot to her.
In semblance, that’s the sticker shock our trading partners are feeling right now as they look at buying our beef, with their dollars, at our prices. So, this has added to price softness as more beef must be eaten domestically.
Of course, the other side of this issue with strong dollars is beef imports are cheaper for U.S. wholesalers to purchase. As a result, USDA recently forecast total U.S. beef imports for 2015 to be 3.4 billion pounds, more than 17 percent higher than year-earlier levels. USDA also projects total beef exports for 2015 to be 2.3 billion pounds, about 8 percent lower than in 2014.
Cold storage of beef and its main competitors is burgeoning. USDA’s monthly cold storage report says there were 496 million pounds of beef in cold storage at the end of September. This is up 5.5 percent from the month before and up 31.3 percent compared with a year ago. Missouri economist Ron Plain notes this is the most frozen beef ever at the end of September and the most for any month since April 2013.
Frozen pork stocks were up 19.2 percent year over year and frozen chicken up 27.9 percent at the end of September. The total amount of red meat in storage was the most ever for the end of September, and the total frozen stocks of red meat and poultry were the most for any month ever, Plain says.
These things will put a lot of pressure on that rally in live-cattle prices for which we’ve all been cheering.