A $47 price swing brought cattle feeding margins back into positive territory the week ending December 27, according to the latest Sterling Profit Tracker data. However, margins remain below those earned last month and last year at this time when feedlots were earning about $144 per head and $57 per head, respectively.

The 5-Area direct price also improved last week, reaching $161.82 per hundredweight, compared to $158.71 the previous week. This is $10 below the late-November highs of more than $171 per hundredweight, but fed cattle are set to finish 2014 nearly $30 per hundredweight higher than they finished 2013. Feeder cattle were steady last week at $222.71. Compared to the final days of 2013, feeder cattle are averaging nearly $60 per hundredweight more (or more than $440 per head more for a 750-pound feeder calf). The breakeven for last week’s feedlot placements increased 20 cents last week to $168.41 per hundredweight, according to John Nalivka with Sterling Marketing, Inc.

Beef packer margins continued improving last week but remain in the red. Packer margins were negative $45.19 last week, compared to negative $59.63 the previous week. The beef cutout value improved slightly to $240.33 per hundredweight, compared to $239.94 the previous week.

Farrow-to-finish margins were down again last week, dropping to $13.17 per head, according to the Sterling Pork Profit Tracker. Last year at this time, margins were negative $16.18 per head.

Lean hogs dropped to $77.07 per hundredweight the week ending December 26. Last month, lean hogs averaged $88.46 and last year at this time they were $77.57. Feed costs were up for hogs, climbing to $82.39 per head.

Pork packer margins increased last week, averaging $14.71 per head compared to $10.70 the previous week. The pork cutout value finished the week at $87.37 per hundredweight, compared to $88.78 the previous week.

The Sterling Beef Profit Tracker for the week ending December 27:

  • Average feeder margins: $21.94 per head
  • Average beef packer margins: -$45.19 per head

The Sterling Pork Profit Tracker for the week ending December 26:

  • Average farrow-to-finish margins: $13.17 per head
  • Average pork packer margins: $14.71 per head

The Sterling Beef and Pork Profit Trackers are produced by Sterling Marketing Inc. and John Nalivka, president, Vale, Ore., and are published weekly by Drovers/CattleNetwork, and PorkNetwork.