Cattle futures fared relatively well in 2013, especially
those of feeder cattle, animals ready for placement on feedlots.
With cattle producers rebuilding herds too, competition for
feeder cattle drove futures 10.1% higher in Chicago over the year - a fifth successive year of gains, totalling 77%.
While futures in live cattle, animals ready for slaughter,
rose more sedately, by 1.7% on a front contract basis, that was still better
than the 8% loss experienced by the average agricultural commodity, and also extended to a fifth year a run in annual price rises.
Will the gains continue in 2014? Will feeder cattle outperform again? Or will dwindling
beef supplies allow live cattle futures regain the advantage?
"For the first half of 2014, we expect further upside for
the global beef market, with cattle prices remaining elevated in most regions.
The main question in many regions remains where to source sufficient beef
"With herd rebuilding as the first priority globally,
supported by improving climate conditions and moderating feed costs, global
beef production will increase only slightly and is expected to decline sharply
in key markets like the US.
"US feeders and packers will face additional challenges to
source enough cattle and beef, especially in light of the fact that live cattle
imports will be pressured lower due to the new US Country of Origin Labelling
(Cool) legislation passed in November.
"This legislation has already led to Tyson's announcement
that it will no longer accept cattle raised and fed in Canada.
"Fed cattle prices are trading in a range of $132-134 [per
hundredweight], which is a record price.
"We expect fed cattle prices are likely to level off early
in 2014. Once through the winter, fed cattle prices are expected to reach new
price levels towards the spring.
"Fed cattle prices will be targeting a new high range of
$135-140 in this window."
"US pasture and rangeland conditions have continued to show
improvement. In addition, the US Drought Monitor continues to show vast
"This improvement has certainly encouraged some ranchers to
begin retaining heifer calves to begin rebuilding a herd that has been vastly
liquidated. This, in turn, lessens the already tight supply of feeder calves to
be placed into feedlots.
"Further, the continued rise in feeder prices have led to
negative projected margins in many feedlots.
As such… we continue to see the feeder cattle price rally to be capped
in the coming months."
"Turning to live cattle, we continue to see strength, as
tight inventories and lower production are expected to support prices. The
banning of beta-agonist Zilmax has severely curtailed available beef
"Also in play are the seasonality of placements and the
seasonality of marketing – more finished cattle are needed in the spring and
summer to meet the 'grilling season' demand.
"While most feedlot pens are currently full, more calves
will be needed in the early part of 2014 to meet the spring/summer demand, likely
providing additional support to live cattle prices."