Anyone wondering how snug calf supplies are getting, only had to try to find grass-ready cattle last week. With supplies drying up close to the summer grass season in the Central Plains, order buyers converged on the Southeast, lifting average cash prices for 400-500-lb. calves in the region by $8.34/cwt. to a staggering $193.21/cwt.
Speaking to the steamy demand for calves, especially flyweights, analysts with the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) noted Friday, “…Order buyers at the sale barn in Okeechobee, FL, teased the alligator on 200-300-lb. steers and bulls this past week with top prices on this class up to $285/cwt., and the entire weight range averaging over $250. Few of us have gotten used to hearing calf prices in the $2/lb. range; do we need to prepare ourselves for, dare we say, $3/lb.?”
Across the nation, AMS analysts say calves sold $3-$10 higher, while feeder cattle trended $1-$4 higher. The CME Feeder Index coasted to another new record high of $156.57 Wednesday.
Keep in mind, this was with demand-based concerns surrounding escalating gas and retail beef prices provided a ceiling for the cattle complex last week, as cattle futures, by no means anemic, traded slightly lower week-to-week.
With that said, Choice boxed beef cutout values closed Friday at $197.42, which was $6.97 more than a week earlier. Select boxed beef cutout values were $193.40 through Friday afternoon, $7.50 higher week-to-week. The Choice/Select spread narrowed 54¢ to $4.02.
According to AMS analysts, “Tight inventories of cattle have hit home for boneless beef processors as culling season is now over and high-dressing slaughter cows and bulls are bringing over $100/cwt. at auction, well before the peak of grilling season.”
The extraordinary wholesale prices—and the slightly higher inventory of beef in cold storage reported by USDA earlier in the week—delayed cash fed cattle trade. By late Friday afternoon, there were some initial live trades in Kansas at steady money with the previous week’s record high of $128. Some early beef trades in Nebraska were reported $3 lower at $200.
Last week’s prices were supported by generally favorable outside markets and a lower U.S. dollar. Though it never closed above 13,000, the Dow Jones Industrial Average flirted with and crossed the psychological barrier several times. By the end of the week, the broader S&P 500 was trading at its highest level since 2008.