The federally inspected cattle harvest was boosted by 20,000 head the week of Oct. 4, compared to the prior week. This was within the trade expectation, albeit a little weak, given that the 637,000 total two weeks before was a function of one packing plant’s brief closure for cooler cleaning. Daily head counts for the steer and heifer harvest topped out at 97,000 head on Oct. 6.
The biggest market adjustment on the production side of the business recently has been the string of summarily positive days in Live Cattle futures last week. The October 2021 contract moved $4.68 per hundredweight (cwt), higher from open on Oct. 4 through close on Oct. 8. Oct. 11-12 were a bit softer at the conclusion of the optimism.
Futures are still leading the cash market a bit as the short-lived October contract closed on Oct. 12 at $125.02 per cwt, while packer bids early this week were locked in the same range seen a week ago between $122 and $124 per cwt.
Looking much further ahead, deferred futures are adding value to calves sold straight off the cow in the current spot market.
Turning to the boxed beef trade, cutout values continue to fall rapidly in a fall pattern that’s grossly overdue. Much remains in flux in the 2021 market, with record-high seasonal beef values inflated alongside so many other commodities and hard goods.
Mid-October pricing should be moving upward at this time, but last week’s average Choice cutout was $11.52 per cwt cheaper than the week prior. As of Oct. 7, the Certified Angus Beef (CAB) brand cutout price was slightly more resilient, down $10.22 per cwt. We suspect, that as of that day, the decline would have been in line with the Choice decline.
The Select cutout lost the least, down $7.47 per cwt. This is logical in that when beef buyers begin to push back on price, the demand frenzy for quality sees some slack as well. Even so, the quality price spreads have been historically wide this year.
Unsurprisingly, the rib primal has seen the most weakening price in recent reports. The negative $30 per cwt rib slide for the CAB cutout was overdue based on the now longstanding imbalance in ribeyes versus the remainder of the carcass.
This fourth quarter begins with unseasonal market signals regarding wholesale prices. Consumers are seeing inflation across so many products, especially staples such as food and gasoline.
Anecdotally, grocery stores are wary of sticker shock to the consumer at the same time that labor shortages are commonplace in every sector, driving wages higher as stores try to secure new employees. Much remains in question regarding retail beef demand this season.
Paul Dykstra is the assistant director of supply management and analysis at CAB. He can be reached at email@example.com.