Beef: Following a sharp drop in weekly cattle slaughter two weeks ago to 617,000 head, there was a significant rebound to 642,000 head last week, the largest since the end of September and well above last year's 611,000 head. Weekly harvest may settle back to the range of 630,000-635,000 head ahead of Thanksgiving, which is still well above year-ago levels. Cow slaughter continues to increase seasonally and reached 121,000 head for the week of Oct. 21. Further increases are expected into the weeks before and after Thanksgiving, with fall cow slaughter running nearly 6% above last year. Increases in cow slaughter in the last two years are mostly reflective of larger inventories, as the cattle herd continues to grow. Weekly steer and heifer slaughter was estimated at 533,000 head in September before declining seasonally toward 507,000 head in October, and it is expected to increase toward 514,000 head per week in November, about 3% larger than last year.
Pork: Hams continue to defy the larger supplies that typically bring weaker pricing. Mexico is showing continual interest in larger hams, thus tightening supplies. Ripple effects are adding support to the middle-weight hams and the domestic price. Informa Economics IEG has revised its forecast for all hams due to the near-term support now seen near current levels, without significant weakening expected. Look for a small price dip the week of Thanksgiving, followed by additional support and slight strength heading into the middle of December. The current premium over 2017 is more than 20%, although this is not expected to increase. Prices are not expected to gain significant strength beyond current levels, but the risk is beginning to mount toward prices slowly moving higher. Those needing coverage for Christmas hams should buy on pull-backs, paying close attention to pricing in the third week of November.
Poultry: With ready-to-cook broiler meat up 2% during the third quarter versus the year-ago level to a historic 10.54 billion lb., the ensuing product discounting proved difficult for sellers to avoid. In some cases, such as the boneless/skinless breast meat segment, values plummeted 22.5% from the average garnered in the spot market to the October product value average. For tenders, the dramatic decline over the same period was much more problematic, dropping from an average of $2.01/lb. during August to just under $1.36/lb., on average, during October, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Market News" report. During October, IEG’s calculated weighted broiler cutout, which represents the overall broiler market health condition index, showed a 7.5% advancement from 2016 while falling just shy of the five-year average of 81 cents/lb. Overall, the weighted whole broiler cutout is expected to see strength over 2016 levels through the remainder of the year, gaining 13.7% in aggregate from 2016.
For a more detailed look at the weekly forecasts for the various meat sectors and meat cuts, subscribe to the "Meat Price Outlook." Contact Susan Dahlgren at [email protected] for more information.