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CME: US Beef, Live Cattle Imports Continue to Slow

10 February 2016

US - USDA-FAS recently released totals for December protein imports and exports, on a product weight basis, write Steve Meyer and Len Steiner.

We will wait for the trade report published by USDA-ERS to more fully evaluate these numbers as it will be published on a carcass weight basis.

However, the first round of data showed beef imports continued to slow in December, down 35 per cent compared to 2014.

A large part of this is due to the fact that the import quota from Australia was reached, but we expect beef imports to moderate during 2016 as we cyclically increase domestic beef production and Australia cyclically decreases their beef production.

According to USDA-FAS, on a product weight basis, beef exports for December were only 8 per cent below 2014’s.

Pork exports continued to do fairly well, up 8 per cent year-over-year in December, with pork imports just about even with year ago numbers.

While the product weight data are good indicators of import and export trends for the month, the carcass weight data published today will allow us to compare across industry production and get a better understanding as to what trade did in December.

Moving on to what January numbers have in store so far, with regards to trade in the protein and livestock sector, we will take a look at weekly trade data published by USDA-FAS.

To note, although the FAS monthly data indicates beef exports were 8 per cent below year ago volumes in December, weekly data shows December beef exports up 4 per cent year-over-year. This is just to make the point that weekly data are interesting indicators, since monthly trade numbers are delayed, but do differ (sometimes significantly) from the monthly trade reports.

With that said, in January, weekly data shows that beef exports were down 2 per cent and pork exports were down 6 per cent compared to January 2015. Both beef and pork export volumes did increase the second half of January, compared to the first half.

On the live animal trade side, cattle imports from Canada (reported weekly by USDA-APHIS) and Mexico (reported weekly by USDA-AMS) have started the year off significantly below 2015’s.

Feeder cattle imported from Mexico were down 33 per cent (down 27,000 head). Through the first three weeks of January (most current data available), total cattle imports from Canada were down 36 per cent (down 11,000 head).

We only import feeder cattle from Mexico, however we import both feeder and slaughter cattle from Canada. Within the 36 per cent decrease in cattle imports from Canada, feeder cattle imports were down 16,000 head and slaughter steer and heifer imports were actually up 5,000 head.

Live hog imports have started the year out with larger import numbers compared to January 2015.

Feeder pigs imported from Canada are up 70,000 head (up 20 per cent) through the first three weeks of January compared to year ago numbers.

Slaughter gilts and barrows were slightly below January totals so far, down 800 head (down 2 per cent). Slaughter sow and boar imports were down 2,800 head (down 10 per cent), compared to year ago numbers.

Circling back to feeder pig imports from Canada, during 2015 there was a consistent trend towards increased feeder pig imports for the majority of months in 2015, compared to 2014. It appears 2016 is starting out by continuing that trend.

The hog industry now has three new pork packing plants coming online in 2017, and these Canadian hog imports could become more and more important, depending on packer margins and industry dynamics.


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