US cattle prices yo-yo

By Joanna Newman

THE past week has been a roller-coaster for US cattle prices.

Cattle markets have soared over the past couple of days after plummeting late last week, and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange December live cattle futures contract settled on Wednesday (25 November) at 63.45¢/lb. This was up from 61.32¢ on Monday and from 62.7¢/lb a week ago.

The January store cattle price followed a similar trend, dipping close to 69¢/lb on Monday before rebounding to close at 71.17¢/lb on Wednesday.

With the futures market winding down ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, cattle prices are especially vulnerable to the ongoing weakness in pig prices, and this helped depress the cattle market late last week.

The slaughterhouses have been reluctant to pay up for live animals ahead of the holidays, and on Monday were bidding 60¢/lb, down from 61¢/lb a week ago.

Futures managed a recovery this week in reaction to the latest meat production data released on Monday. Fewer cattle were slaughtered in October, but their weights were heavier compared with 1997, noted the US Department of Agriculture.

A total of 3.05 million head were killed last month, down 5% from last year, but their average weight rose 19lbs (8.6kg) to 1214lbs (552kg). As a result, beef production fell only 3% to 2.23 billion lbs. Producers interpreted this as a good sign that the industry is working through its backlog of heavier cattle.

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