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Stocker prospects boost calf prices

Cattle futures retained the previous week's gains, amid mostly steady money for fed cattle and higher cash prices for calves and feeders.

Improving fall forage conditions and promising wheat pasture prospects helped boost calf and feeder cattle prices this week.
 
Steers sold $1-$6 per cwt higher, according to the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Heifers traded mostly steady to $3 higher, except for $4-$6 higher in the North Central region.
 
“Long strings of yearlings are still making their way to market in the Northern Plains, as the grass has been abundant and producers have been content to watch their inventory increase in value,” say AMS analysts. “Buyers were willing to bid up to meet their procurement needs and get pens filled ahead of corn harvest.”
 
“Feeder cattle prices have shown strength through the summer, but seasonal pressures will likely take hold, moving prices lower in the fourth quarter,” say analysts with USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), in the latest monthly Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook (LDPO).
 
“Prices typically decrease when the spring-born calves (about two-thirds of the annual calf crop) are brought to market in the fall. Assuming normal weather in the Great Plains, availability of winter forages for backgrounding could bolster prices in fourth-quarter 2018 (see Stocker opportunity looks positive below).”
 
ERS nudged projected feeder cattle prices slightly higher for the rest of this year and next, compared to the previous month at $148-$151 per cwt in the third quarter; $143-$151 in the fourth quarter; $139-$151 for the 2019 annual price, based on lower projected corn prices.
 
Cattle futures were able to retain most of the previous week’s trench-busting gains, helped along by expanding open interest.
 
Feeder Cattle futures closed an average of 37centslower week to week on Friday.
 
Live Cattle futures closed mixed from an average of 32 centslower to an average of 25 cents higher.
 
Heading into the new week, futures will likely face some pressure from Friday’s monthly Cattle on Feed report.

 
Fed cattle trade mainly steady 

Negotiated cash fed cattle trade was a sluggish affair, remaining mostly undefined through late Friday afternoon. Live trade was reported in Nebraska at $110.00-$110.50 per cwt, which was $1 lower than the previous week. Dressed trade was steady at $175.
 
Similarly, late Friday, the Texas Cattle Feeders Association reported its members trading cattle at steady money of $111.
 
Speaking to fed cattle prices in the second half of this year, ERS analysts say, “Feedlots seem to have resisted recent lower prices from packers, which may be reflected in a greater proportion of cattle on feed over 120 days. To the extent these cattle are remaining on feed longer as producers respond to the prospects of higher future prices, there could be a shift of some marketings from the third quarter to the fourth.”
 
Projected fed cattle prices (Five-Area direct) in the most recent projections are $108-$111 per cwt for the third quarter and $108-$114 for the fourth quarter.
 
“In the first quarter of 2019, fed cattle prices could be below 2018’s. In subsequent quarters, prices are forecast to be similar to a year earlier,” say analysts with the Livestock Marketing Information Center (LMIC), in the latest Livestock Monitor.  “A normal 2019 Midwest corn crop would set the stage for steady to modestly higher yearling and calf cattle prices in the second half of 2019, compared to the corresponding quarters in 2018.”

Choice wholesale beef values firm

Wholesale beef values continued looking for a seasonal bottom. Week to week, Choice boxed beef cutout value was 53 cents higher Friday afternoon at $204.80 per cwt. Select was $1.76 lower at $194.71.
 
“A strong domestic economy and robust exports have buffered beef, and hence, cattle prices against near record large U.S. beef production and all-time highs in competing meats and poultry supplies,” LMIC analysts explain.
 
“There are unknowns and potential headwinds for cattle markets during the next few years, not the least of which is the potential for U.S. beef, pork, and chicken exports to falter under a cycle of tariffs and retaliation. Also, any significant weakness in the domestic or global economy compared to the healthy conditions of the last 12 months could dampen demand for beef, and therefore cattle.”
 
In the meantime, LMIC analysts point out projected beef production this year of 27.5 billion pounds—assuming normal weather conditions—will be the smallest year-to-year increase since 2015 at 1-2%. 

Feedlot placements higher than expected 

Markets will likely view Friday’s monthly Cattle on Feed report as a touch bearish. Depending on the pre-report estimate considered, feedlot placements in August were 2-4% more than expected.
 
There were 2.07 million head placed in August (feedlots with 1,000 head or more capacity), which was 7.36% more (+142,000 head) than the prior year.
 
In terms of weights, 37.0% were placed at weights less than 700 pounds; 45.2% weighing 700-899 pounds; 17.9% weighing 900 pounds or more.
 
AMS analysts point out the lion’s share of increased placements were cattle weighing less than 700 pounds.
 
“Between the last two Cattle on Feed reports, the category under 600 pounds is 16.7% higher. The category for 600-699 pounds is 20.2% higher,” say AMS analysts.
 
Marketings in August of 1.98 million head were just about even with the previous year (+4,000 head).
 
Total cattle on feed Sept. 1 of 11.125 million head were 5.9% more (+621,000 head) than a year earlier. That’s the largest inventory for the month since the data series began in 1996.

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