Market Matters Blog

Breaking Down the Cold Storage Report

Rick Kment
By  Rick Kment , DTN Analyst
Cold storage inventories listed by a percentage of meat product helps to put into perspective the availability of market-ready product available to consumers. Total beef stocks in cold storage accounts for 20% of all meat and poultry stocks. (DTN graphic)

The monthly USDA Cold Storage report typically is a mainstay in the livestock industry and continues to serve as a good indicator of meat supply levels and seasonal changes seen in the market. Although the report is best known for measuring cold storage and frozen productions around the country, such as meat, dairy products and orange juice, it is a good read once you have exhausted all of your other reading sources used to curb insomnia. If you ever want to know the current level of frozen lima beans, boysenberries or onion rings, then this is the report for you.

For most of us, it's frustrating that the information we are looking for is delivered within four to five lines nestled deep in the middle of the 26-page report. The Cold Storage report traditionally is not looked at as a standalone report when it comes to the livestock and meat industry. Being released on or around the 22nd of each month, it comes within days of the monthly USDA Livestock Slaughter report, Cattle on Feed report and quarterly Hogs and Pigs report. Used in conjunction with information from these other livestock reports, cold storage reports help to give a better picture of overall movement of beef and pork, compared to both a month ago and a year ago.

The main takeaways from the report at a bird's eye view remain total beef, total pork and total poultry stocks. As of Sept. 1, total beef stocks in cold storage totaled 460.2 million pounds, pork stocks totaled 467.7 million pounds and total poultry was 1.42 billion pounds. When viewing these totals, it is important to not only focus on the change from a year ago -- as this will indicate longer-term changes to the market and point out anomalies like seen over the last year -- but also to compare current inventory levels to those a month ago. Comparing to the month prior helps to indicate overall movement of product and can also be a proxy for measuring demand changes within the industry.

Beef stocks in August increased 5% from July levels, while falling 2% from year-ago levels. Pork and poultry stocks increased 2% and 1%, respectively, from July levels, while falling 23% and 2%, respectively, from year-ago levels. Given the indirect impact to futures trade, the Cold Storage report typically is not a major report used to set price direction. But it does become very important in following the fundamental changes in markets and price direction through the year.

The report also breaks down meats by products, although beef is less focused and only measured by "boneless" and "beef cuts." Pork is broken down into 15 categories, while poultry is measured in 22 categories. This may help you if you are concerned with the availability of chicken wings or turkey legs in the near future. Another interesting segment within the report, overlooked by most coverage, is the regional breakdown of where product is stored. A total of 46% of all frozen beef in storage is located in the Mid-Atlantic region, which includes New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The West North-Central region, which includes beef states such as Nebraska, Kansas and Iowa, accounts for 20% of beef cold storage, while the West South-Central region, which includes Texas and Oklahoma, held 7% of beef stocks at the end of August. This can be used to measure where end-user needs and product demand is seen, while most other reports focus on production sources.

There continues to be a lot of data delivered every month in the Cold Storage report, and many times it is daunting to try to figure out meaningful takeaway points from it. Hopefully, when the next report is released at 2 p.m. on Oct. 22, this will help you focus on useful numbers and how they relate to the meat industry going into the holiday season.

Rick Kment can be reached at rick.kment@dtn.com

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