Winter storm Jonas has dumped record snowfall on the east coast causing near total shutdown of several major cities and across a large region. Impacts from deep snow, power outages and coastal flooding will continue for several days. Some winter storms affect beef production and supply; some impact demand; and sometimes winter weather affects both beef supply and demand. Jonas will be primarily a demand impact as the storm was centered east of the major beef production regions in the middle of the country. The storm means less grocery shopping and restaurant visits and likely will interrupt beef supply pipelines for several days to come.
The January Cattle on Feed report showed January 1 feedlot inventories slightly lower than one year ago. December placements, though larger than expected at 99 percent of last year, were down year over year for the sixth consecutive month. Total placements since July are down 4.3 percent; some 459 thousand head less than a year earlier. This ensures that feedlot supplies will remain limited through the first half of 2016.
One of the questions since last fall has been the extent to which the feedlot industry has cleaned up the heavyweight cattle that dragged down the fed market in the fourth quarter of 2015. December feedlot marketings were 101 percent of year ago levels, slightly less than expected but still up year over year. Better marketing rates in November and December suggest that much of the heavyweight problem has been cleaned up. Steer carcass weights reached a weekly peak of 930 pounds last October and were still as much as 923 pounds at the end of November. The current level of 902 pounds is down sharply but is still 26 pounds heavier than this time last year. The quarterly inventory by class shows that the number of steers in feedlots is 3.1 percent above year ago levels, continuing a trend since last year. Heifer carcass weights have not decreased as much as the steers and, in fact, have increased slightly the last two weeks. It seems that there may still be some backlog of heavy heifers in feedlots despite the fact that the total number of heifers on feed, January 1 was down 7.3 percent from last year.
This is a data-rich time of year and the cattle on feed report will be followed on January 29 by the annual Cattle inventory report and answers to some continuing questions about cattle markets. Do the reduced feedlot placements in recent months mean that a backlog of feeder cattle are out in the country, yet to be placed in feedlots? Did the market collapse last fall derail heifer retention? Exactly how much did the cow herd expand in 2015? Upcoming data will finalize the situation at the end of 2015 and, more importantly, provide clues to the trajectory of cattle inventories and beef production in 2016.