Cattle Outlook: December placements down, marketings up

USDA's January Cattle on Feed report said December placements were down 0.8% while marketings were up 1.1%. This resulted in the number of cattle on feed at the start of 2016 to be down 0.5% compared to a year ago. Placements of feeders weighting less than 600 pounds was down by 14.8% during December; placements weighing 600-699 pounds were down 2.7%; placements weighing 700-799 pounds was up 6.9% and placements weighing 800 pounds or more was up 10.0% compared to December 2014.

The average price of a pound of choice beef at retail during December was $5.972. That was down 24.1 cents from the month before, down 33.8 cents from a year ago, and the lowest for any month since July 2014. The December average grocery store price for all fresh beef was $5.885 per pound, down 10.4 cents from the month before and down 9.7 cents from December 2014.

The 5 area average live price for slaughter steers was $124.70/cwt during December. That was down $3.60 from the month before and down $38.40 from a year ago. This is the lowest monthly average steer price since August 2013.ª

Fed cattle prices were lower this week. Through Thursday, the 5-area average price for slaughter steers sold on a live weight basis was $126.62/cwt, down $6.90 from last week's average and down $32.89 from a year ago. The 5 area average dressed price this week for steers was $202.00/cwt, down $7.57 for the week and down $54.03 compared to the same week last year.

This morning the choice boxed beef cutout value was $225.43/cwt, down $7.22 from the previous Friday and down $28.45 from a year ago. The select carcass cutout was $220.98/cwt, down $6.65 from last week and also down $28.45.

This week's cattle slaughter totaled 569,000 head, up 0.2% from last week, but down 2.1% from a year ago.

The average steer dressed weight for the week ending on January 9 was 902 pounds, down 2 pounds from the week before, but up 13 pounds from a year ago. This was the 82nd consecutive week with weights above the year-ago level.

Prices at the Oklahoma City Stockyards this week were $6 to $8 lower on feeder steers and $10-$15 lower on calves than last week. Prices for medium and large frame #1 steers by weight group were: 400-450# $204-$226, 450-500# $198-$214.50, 500-550# $183.50-$199, 550-600# $168-$185.50, 600-650# $162-$169, 650-700# $145-$167.50, 700-750# $152-$165.50, 750-800# $147.50-$155.50, 800-900# $137.50-$149.75 and 900-1000# $138-$142.25/cwt.

Cattle futures were higher this week. The February live cattle futures contract settled at $132.07/cwt today, up $4.52 for the week. April fed cattle settled at $133.07/cwt, up $4.57 from the previous week. The June contract ended the week at $123.85/cwt, up $4.10 from the previous Friday.

January feeder cattle ended the week at $159.42/cwt, up $5.12 from a week earlier. March futures gained $7.63 this week to close at $157.90/cwt. April settled at $157.82/cwt.