Fed cattle prices slipped slightly for the second consecutive week. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $166.87/cwt, down $0.55 from last week but up $35.92 from a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price for steers retreated $2.17 this week to $261.13/cwt. This remains $55.09 higher than last year's dressed price average.
Boxed beef cutout values also posted declines this week. The cutout value for choice carcasses this morning was $249.16/cwt, down $2.61 from last Friday but up $46.06 from a year ago. The select cutout was $238.44/cwt, down $0.73 for the week but $48.58 higher than last year. Today's choice-select spread narrowed again relative to last Friday to $10.72/cwt.
Beef imports eclipsed 250 million pounds in September for the fourth time in the past six months. This level had not been reached in any month since April 2009 and had not been consistently achieved since mid-2007. Australia and New Zealand have combined to provide 57% of this year's beef imports, as the U.S. supply of lean manufacturing beef has fallen sharply on reduced domestic cow and bull slaughter. It will be difficult for Australia to grow or even sustain this year's export levels in 2015, as their cattle inventory is projected to reach the lowest level in at least 10 years and rebuilding will take place with adequate moisture. This will provide further upward pressure to U.S. ground beef prices next year.
U.S. beef exports have remained relatively stable in recent months despite record high prices and a stronger U.S. dollar. For the first nine months of the year total beef exports are 1% above last year, with shipments to Hong Kong (+25%), South Korea (+21%) and Mexico (+19%) posting the largest growth. Exports to Japan are down 3% for the year, with beef exported into the Canada market down 23%. Despite stable beef exports, the sum of beef plus pork net exports in September was at the lowest level since August 2010.
This week's cattle slaughter totaled 564 thousand head, up 2.0% from the week before but 7.7% lower than the same week last year. The average dressed weight for steers slaughtered the week ending October 25 was a whopping 902 pounds, up 4 pounds from last week and 26 pounds heavier than the same week last year.
Feeder steers sold $1 to $4 higher this week at Oklahoma City. This week's price ranges for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight group were: 400-450# $311.50-$329, 450-500# $290-$332, 500-550# $274-$298, 550-600# $245-$300, 600-650# $240-$271, 650-700# $223-$256, 700-750# $224-$244, 750-800# $223.50-$231.50, and 800-900# $220.50-$239/cwt.
The December live cattle futures contract closed at $166.80/cwt today, up 75 cents for the week. February fed cattle settled at $168.37/cwt. The November feeder cattle contract jumped $4.37 on the week to end at $238.52/cwt.
December corn closed today at $3.675, down 9.25 cents from last Friday. Despite some large daily movements, December soybean meal futures finished at $390.40 per ton, up just $1.40 from last week. The November Crop Production report released on Monday will provide a revised look at the size of this year's corn and soybean crops.