By Simon Wragg

TALK of a shortage of store stock is helping sustain a buoyant trade as the bulk of the spring sales get underway, but some auctioneers do not think prices will rise further.

With 1200 head through the ring at Stirlings regular fixture, auctioneer Robin Tough believes vendors should be pleased with the recent trade.

A scarcity of strong forward stores has certainly helped keep the market active, but the fat market has eased which tends to take the edge off the store trade.

Although early sales saw a considerable rise in values compared with last year typically upwards of 40 a head fewer spring sales have seen the sizeable leaps some may have expected, say auctioneers.

But while this levelling of the store price may not please vendors, conservative bidding by finishers will at least help protect their margins and help ensure they make sufficient profit to return to the store market later this year.

Bids are likely to ease in line with prime/finished markets.

The rally of beef prices to top 1.05/kg liveweight earlier this year exceeded many industry expectations.

Now, values are expected to remain at around 90p/kg providing a benchmark from which store buyers can pitch their bids.

However, Hope markets auctioneer Bruce Walton suggests there is still plenty of confidence among buyers.

At last weekends special spring sale of Continental X heifers and steers at Carlisle, auctioneers Harrison & Hetherington reported a modest rise in values on last year. With over 3000 head entered, Fridays heifer trade saw an increase of 4.31 a head to 390.58; Saturdays steers were similar adding 5.21 to average 512.05.

The Carlisle trade was in line with expectations, says auctioneer David Pritchard.

People seem to be chasing cattle at the moment; there may be shortages in some areas, but the end product (price) isnt helping the trade.

That did not deter those producers looking to secure stores with show potential from paying hefty sums for a select few animals.

Top prices for show animals were 1500 for a Limousin cross steer from Cumbria-based Mrs M Batty and 1200 for a Limousin cross heifer from another Cumbria-based producer, P Richardson.

It was a similar story at Hexhams special March show and sale where demand at all levels was sharper with a slight increase in values, report auctioneers.

Northampton auctions spring sale of single suckled calves between 10 and 14-months-old many from suckler herds saw a consistent trade, says auctioneer Keith Rose.

Heifers were mainly between 240 and 270 a head, rising to 310. Older sorts were over 325 to realise a top of 422 for strong, forward stores close to finishing.

In general, store numbers in the south and east remain tight with many centres saying more could be sold to advantage given the current interest from buyers.