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Cattle futures - will they rise yet again in 2014?

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 supplies.

"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."

Societe Generale

"US pasture and rangeland conditions have continued to show improvement. In addition, the US Drought Monitor continues to show vast improvement.

"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 production.

"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."

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