For the first time in over a year, average cattle feeding losses are out of triple digits, according to the Sterling Beef Profit Tracker. Average closeouts last week revealed losses of $76 per head, which is a $65 improvement over the previous week, and a whopping $242 better than a month ago.

Last week saw a $2.25 per cwt. rally in cash cattle prices to boost USDA’s 5-area direct cash price to $138.07. The steady improvement in feedyard closeouts is also due to steadily decreasing costs for the feeder cattle that factors into those closeouts, according to John Nalivka, Sterling Marketing, Inc., Vale, Ore. Feeder cattle placed against last week’s marketed fed cattle cost an average of $185.69, about $30 per head less than the week before, and $163 less than a month ago. The total cost of finishing cattle marketed last week was $1,879 per head.

Beef packer margins improved $25 per head, earning profits of $39 per animal. Packer margins are about $9 per head better than a month ago.

Sterling Marketing estimates feedyards lost a cumulative unhedged $4.7 billion in 2015, with average weekly losses of $239.26 per head. That compares to an unhedged profit of $3.9 billion in 2014, and losses of $1.1 billion in 2013. 

A month ago cattle feeders were losing $317 per head, while a year ago feedyard closeouts were $212 in the red, according to Sterling Marketing. Feeder cattle represent 77% of the cost of finishing a steer, compared with nearly 82% a year ago.

A month ago beef packers were earning $30 for every animal processed, while a year ago packers were losing $33 per head, Sterling Marketing estimates.

Farrow-to-finish pork producers found profits of $3.05 per hog last week, nearly steady with the previous week, and $3 per head better than a month ago.

Pork packers saw a $0.28 increase in profit margins to $9.75 per head. Negotiated prices for lean hogs were $65.68 per cwt. last week, up $0.73 per cwt. from the previous week. Cash prices for fed cattle are $23 per cwt. lower than last year, and negotiated hog prices are $1.83 per cwt. lower than last year.

Sterling Marketing projects 2016 average cash profit margins for cow-calf producers at $263 per cow. Last year’s estimated average cow-calf margins were $432 per cow. Cow-calf profits for 2014 were estimated at $517 per cow.